Traditionally, December is a time for family gatherings and personal reflection. It is not often thought of in a very romantic light -- too much rushing around on the one hand, too much inward contemplation on the other. Several movies this month, however, seek to redress that imbalance: Did You Hear About the Morgans? (opening December 18) looks at a bickering couple stuck together far from home after witnessing a crime; It's Complicated (out on December 25) deals with a husband and wife reuniting physically, if not necessarily otherwise; The Princess and the Frog (expanding wide tomorrow) wonders if a love affair between two species is really a good idea.
In the realm of science fiction, romances usually take a back seat. James Cameron's approach in The Abyss is common: romantic attachments are fine as long as we don't talk about them until we're at the point of death. But other sci-fi movies have featured wonderfully memorable romantic couples. Here's our top ten.
1. Han and Leia (Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back)
The spark is instantaneous, beginning with bickering, progressing to bantering, and ending with ... well, if not yet babies, then at least the likelihood that children will enter the picture sooner rather than later. Their relationship started in Episode IV with fulsome denials -- remember that Leia defiantly kisses her brother Luke to rebuke Han's smirking self-assurance -- but broadens and deepens to love in Episode V as they face adversity together and eventually acknowledge their feelings, each in their own fashion ("I love you." "I know.") Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher find the right tone; after all, the Empire must be defeated, and that's more important than the romance between a cocky fly boy and a haughty princess.
2. Zoë and Wash (Serenity)
Many movie romances feature two people who are competing with each other, seeking the dominant position of control in the relationship. Zoë Washburne (Gina Torres) and Hoban "Wash" Washburne (Alan Tudyk) don't have that problem. Zoë is a warrior woman, seasoned in combat and incredibly loyal. Hoban is the flighty yet supportive one, a little jealous of her platonic loyalty to another man. They've achieved an amiable compatibility after years of loving commitment. Their devotion to one another is enviable.
3. Neo and Trinity (The Matrix Reloaded)
They move gracefully, speak softly, make love quietly. They're so solemn, so serious, so intense, that their attraction can only be read in the intimacy of their shared eye contact. That makes for a sex scene between Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) that is not terribly sexy -- and, like many sequences in the first sequel, feel protracted beyond reason -- but somehow feels authentic, providing respite from the running and jumping and flying and world saving.
4. Rick and Rachael (Blade Runner)
Between filming two parts of his memorable Star Wars romance, Harrison Ford fell in love with a replicant. That's the last thing you'd expect from the world-weary Rick Deckard, who specializes in terminating "skin jobs," but the heart wants what the heart wants, and the cool, classic beauty of Rachael (Sean Young) sneaks through his defenses, until he's doing everything within his power to keep her alive.
5. Superman and Lois (Superman II)
Lois and Clark, together again, except that Lois (Margot Kidder) is hopelessly in love with Superman (Christopher Reeve) rather than his bespectacled secret identity. Who can blame her? Clark is bumbling and nerve-ridden, while Superman is strong and confident. And he's willing to walk away from everything for the sake of his love for Lois, leading to the sexiest consummation in an icy bed chamber ever.
6. Starman and Jenny (Starman)
The best science fiction upends expectations. John Carpenter's film follows with empathy Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen) as she helps an alien creature (Jeff Bridges) who has taken the form of her late husband. Jenny is alarmed and bewildered to see her beloved come back to life as a meat puppet, animated by an extraterrestrial in need of a body. The wounds of her late husband's demise are still too fresh, the scars not yet healed, her feelings not yet calcified, so "Starman" awakens thoughts and emotions and urges that she has been struggling to cope with, resulting in a delicately poignant, awkward relationship.
7. WALL-E and EVE (WALL-E)
A love so pure it could only be drawn that way, WALL-E (voiced by Ben Burtt) falls instantly for EVE (voiced by Elissa Knight), hoping against hope that she will allow him to hold his hand. (The Beatles knew the power and importance of that affectionate gesture.) His crush proves to be more than a crush, as he frantically seeks to protect her from forces that he doesn't understand. All he knows is that the one true love of his life needs him. His love is finally reciprocated when EVE comes to know that WALL-E puts the interests of others ahead of his own.
8. Cornelius and Zira (Escape From the Planet of the Apes)
Sweet and sentimental rather than sexy or seductive -- two apes kissing? please! -- Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowell) make for an incredibly cute couple. They share an abiding interest in science and appear to be great friends as well as lovers. Escape details their relationship on Earth, painting a wonderful portrait of a mature love that isn't defined by appearances or material possessions.
9. Freder and Maria (Metropolis)
Fritz Lang's 1927 classic features a classic romance between the initially complacent, privileged Freder and the righteously rebellious Maria. Once Maria opens Freder's eyes to the true and horrid underground conditions of the workers that keep the magnificent Metropolis running above ground, Freder is moved to take action. The infatuation develops into true love, again demonstrated by unselfish actions in behalf of others.
10. Vincent and Irene (Gattaca)
As is often the case, the relationship between Vincent and Irene (Ethan Hawkes and Uma Thurman) is not the main focus of the film. Actually, the ties between Vincent and his brother (Loren Dean) are more essential to the narrative. Writer/director Andrew Niccol has bigger fish to fry, and that's much of the reason why Gattaca is so distinctive. Yet there's no denying the simmering, soulful heat between Vincent and Irene, aided by the knowledge that the two actors were, off the set, very much in love. That makes their scenes together even more compelling to watch.