The best movies are never what you think they are. You sit down expecting one thing, and then you get that, and so much more. One of the threads most commonly hidden in films, especially genre films, is a real romance. So in honor of Valentine’s Day, here are eight science fiction movies that are secretly romances.

These are just a few of our favorite films that promise you one thing but—by the end—end up being pretty romantic. Make no mistake though, these aren’t romantic comedies. They’re movies that sneakily make romance a priority, in an otherwise wild and crazy world.

1) Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

The surface: The sequel to Star Wars, in which Han and Leia flee the Empire while Luke trains as a Jedi.

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The romance: From the very beginning of The Empire Strikes Back, the main thread is Han Solo and Princess Leia. Starting on Hoth, we get the seeds of their flirtation. As they escape there and head to Cloud City, the relationship only deepens. By the end of the film, we get “I love you,” “I know,” and a Leia who’s dead set on getting her man back from Boba Fett and Jabba the Hutt. The movie would still be fine without it, but the Han and Leia relationship is the emotional core of the story, and is makes it truly great.

2) Avatar

The surface: James Cameron’s vivid, 3D adventure in which a disabled soldier puts his consciousness in the body of an alien race to try and help the humans exploit them.

The romance: When Jake Sully begins to integrate with the Na’vi, he develops a friendship, and then more, with Neytiri, the daughter of the tribe’s chief. She teaches him how to be part of the tribe and, eventually, they fall in love and choose to be with one another forever. Jake’s relationship with Neytiri not only helps drive much of the plot, but gives Jake a reason to turn against the humans, and choose to leave his physical body behind. She must be some girl for you to betray your entire species. That’s love.

3) The Lego Movie

The surface: A nobody construction worker becomes the most important person in the world as he goes on an adventure to save us all. That, or movie studio makes a movie based on well-known toy brand.

The romance: The whole reason Emmet goes on the adventure in The Lego Movie is his crush on Wyldstyle. So, over the course of the film, as he proves himself to be a thoughtful, kind and resourceful man, she falls in love with him too. By the end, she dump s fucking BATMAN for him. That’s love, and just one of the emotional strands that make this film so much more than it could have been.

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4) Fight Club

The surface: Two men, disillusioned with the commercialism of society, create a club where they can feel alive by beating the crap out of each other

The romance: One of the main reasons Jack comes to realize that he is Tyler Durden is the treatment and well-being of Marla Singer, a similarly lost soul who connects with both halves of the character. The film then ends with the couple holding hands as the financial institutions of the world crumble in front of them. Marla and Jack/Tyler’s arc in Fight Club gives the Jack half of the character a believable, relatable reason to reject such a cool alternate persona. It shows that life, no matter how fucked up it is, is worth living.

5) The Terminator

The surface: A cyborg is sent back in time to kill a woman who will eventually give birth to a triumphant military leader.

The romance: Someone else is sent back from the future too: a human solider named Kyle Reese who is tasked with defending the woman, Sarah Connor. Not only will their relationship end in a deep love and respect for each other, it also will result in the very son Kyle has been sent back to protect. So basically, without romance in The Terminator, there is no reason for The Terminator.

6) Contact

The surface: A woman discovers a signal from deep space and the results shock the world.

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The romance: At its core, Contact is a film about faith vs. fact. Science vs. religion. Those concepts are most acutely personified by Ellie and Palmer. They meet, have a fling, and over the course of the movie their (at times contemptuous) relationship gives that argument a human face. Eventually, when the pair end up together, we realize that these concepts, so different in their principals, are at their best when they co-exist.

7) Inception

The surface: A team of dream extractors are contracted by a powerful businessman to infiltrate the mind of a competitor and plant an idea in his brain.

The romance: Cobb, the leader of the team, can’t go back to the United States because it’s believed he killed his wife, Mal. Truth is, she killed herself because of the realities the pair created in their own subconscious dream world. All of Cobb’s motivation in the film is based on his inability to let go of his love for Mal and only when he does, can everything be right again. It’s not as straightforward or simple as some of the other movies here but a tragic romance is ultimately the beating heart of the entire movie, all the way up to the end.

8) Batman (1989)

The surface: The popular DC Comic book character battles the Joker for control of Gotham City.

The romance: Batman’s alter ego, Bruce Wayne, becomes so infatuated with photographer Vicki Vale, that he reveals his secret identity to her. In the end, the Joker’s similar attraction puts Vale in the middle of their conflict and eventually, the film ends with Bruce and Vicki in love and together. Like many of the other examples above, it’s the fact Bruce can love that makes his internal conflict as Batman so believable. Love is the only thing that can break Batman. The same holds true for Batman Begins, actually, if you think about it.

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What are some of your favorite sneaky genre romances?


Contact the author at germain@io9.com.