Love is in the air this week, and whether you’re paired up or flying solo on Valentine’s Day, it’s difficult not to feel the holiday’s unavoidable influence in one way or another. And no matter how you feel about roses, greeting cards, and bow-wielding cherubs, February 14 doesn’t have to mean a break from your regularly scheduled geekery – quite the opposite, in fact.
While the usual romantic-comedy fare tends to get top billing this week, there’s no shortage of sci-fi, fantasy and superhero films that manage to hit all the right rom-com notes while offering up top-notch stories from our beloved realms of nerdery.
With that in mind, I’ve assembled a list of seven films – some old, some new – that make for great Valentine’s Day screenings, no matter who you’re planning to spend the holiday with this year (or any year, for that matter).
The Princess Bride
In Jerry Maguire, it’s “You complete me.” In Casablanca, it’s “We’ll always have Paris.” But for anyone who’s watched The Princess Bride, there is no single line of dialogue more likely to cause hearts to flutter and smiles to appear than these three words: “As you wish.” The 1987 film directed by Rob Reiner and based on a 1973 novel by William Goldman tells the story of one man’s quest to rescue the love of his life, and the motley crew that assists him on his mission. Blending classic fantasy with high adventure, comedy and plenty of emotion, the film is widely regarded as one of the greatest love stories ever brought to the big screen. The fact that it’s also eminently quotable only adds it to its geek cred – which was already pretty substantial thanks to elements like the casting of Andre the Giant in one of his most memorable roles. To not include this on your list of Valentine’s Day films would be, well… inconceivable.
Possibly the most impressive aspect of this 2008 animated film from Pixar is that it manages to tell such a touching, fascinating and so very human story through a pair of robot protagonists who communicate in beeps and buzzes rather than human voices. The film tells the story of a simple waste-management robot who toils away on a polluted Earth long after humans evacuated the planet. When WALL-E meets EVE, a robot who arrives on the planet with a mysterious mission, his affection for her sets off a chain of events that will take him into the stars and change everything for humans and robots alike. Along with winning that year’s “Best Animated Feature” Oscar and being nominated for five other Academy Awards, WALL-E was named one of the “Best Movies of the Decade” by Time magazine – so it’s certainly the most lauded film on this list. If Superman made you believe a man could fly, WALL-E will make you believe a robot can fall in love.
Zombie movies aren’t typically considered “date night” fare, but this 2013 adaptation of Isaac Marion’s young-adult novel is the exception to that rule. The film casts Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: First Class) as “R,” a shambling zombie in a postapocalyptic wasteland who suddenly finds himself drawn to a human girl – and not in the “I want to eat your brains” way. As an unlikely relationship blooms between R and Julie (Teresa Palmer), the pair learn that the disease that turned most of the population into flesh-hungry undead might not be as permanent as everyone thinks. Much of the film unfolds from its zombie hero’s perspective, and not only is his take on life as a member of the living dead good for some laughs, Hoult’s physical performance goes a long way toward selling both his paranormal condition and the change that his love for Julie brings about. Not since My Boyfriend’s Back has a zombie movie been this successful at finding the overlap between romantic comedy and the living dead.
Long before Johnny Depp was a flamboyant pirate or Tim Burton’s favorite star, he partnered with the Beetlejuice director for the first time in a peculiar little film about a man with scissors for hands and the girl (Winona Ryder) who first feared, then loved him. Not only is Edward Scissorhands the first collaboration between Burton and Depp, but it’s also one of the celebrated filmmaker’s favorite projects in a long and colorful career. Like Romeo and Juliet before it, Edward Scissorhands is a story of love that is as brief as it is intense, and like the aforementioned Shakespearean classic, tragically doomed from the moment the two young lovers set eyes on each other. Given that every comic convention generally features at least one person dressed like Edward, it’s pretty clear that this film has found that illusive sweet spot in the area where geekery and Shakespearean drama converge.
Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
Given that this installment of the franchise features the retroactively icky makeout session between Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and the sister he didn’t know he had, Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), you should probably leave this one out of any Valentine’s Day screenings that also involve family members. Nevertheless, if you can avoid that little pitfall, The Empire Strikes Back offers the one-two punch of being both the best film in the series and the installment that features one of the most memorable confessions of love in all of sci-fi cinema. After two films’ worth of flirting, Leia finally confesses her feelings to swashbuckling space pilot Han Solo moments before he’s put in suspended animation and carted away to what’s likely to be a very gruesome death. Solo’s response, which was reportedly improvised by Ford, is simply, “I know.” On Valentine’s Day, it’s totally okay to swoon over Star Wars. Live in the moment, folks.
Okay, so this one is cheating a bit, but here’s the deal: as far as big-screen kisses go, that upside-down, rain-soaked lip-lock between Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) and Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) in the original Spider-Man is right up there with the best stuff The Notebook has to offer for a great many romantically inclined cinephiles. The rest of the movie is good, but if you pair it with Peter and Mary Jane’s continuing love story in Spider-Man 2, you have the makings of a romantic double feature that just happens to contain one of the greatest comic book superheroes of all time. Oh, and I count Spider-Man 2 among the greatest comic book movies ever made, so that’s a pretty nice bonus if you feel similarly about the 2004 sequel.
This 2007 film fell under the radar for a lot of people when it first hit theaters, but the pedigree of its cast and creative team (and source material) make it a worthwhile addition to any geek-friendly Valentine’s Day movie list. Directed by Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass) and based on a story by celebrated comic book author and novelist Neil Gaiman, Stardust tells the story of a young man whose quest to recover a fallen star for the girl he loves takes him on a fantastic adventure filled with evil witches, sky pirates and all manner of magical elements. If that’s not enough to win over a skeptical audience, how about an ensemble cast that includes Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Claire Danes, Mark Strong, Ricky Gervais, Peter O’Toole, and Superman himself, Henry Cavill? Yeah, I thought so.
And hey, happy movie-watching this Valentine’s Day!
Question of the Week: Which geeky movies make good date-night films?
Rick Marshall is an award-winning writer and editor whose work can be found at Movies.com, as well as MTV News, Fandango, Digital Trends, IFC.com, Newsarama, and various other online, print, and on-air news outlets. He’s been called a “Professional Geek” by ABC News and Spike TV, and his personal blog can be found at MindPollution.org. You can find him on Twitter as @RickMarshall.
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