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Mary Robinette Kowal – Fantasy Movies for Every Step of Your Relationship

Once upon a time, my brother called to ask if I’d seen Pan’s Labyrinth . I had, and I raved about it, carefully avoiding spoilers. Later I found out that he’d taken a girl to see the movie as a first date. Bad move! As brilliant as that film is, it’s also profoundly not a good first-date flick; taking a date to see something that leaves you distressed, grossed out and sad is not the best plan. A good date movie shapes the subsequent emotional responses so it needs to be chosen with thought. With that in mind, allow me to guide you through the steps of a relationship, movie by movie.

The First Date: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Your first instinct might be to pick a straight romance yet this isn’t the best choice. Declarations of true love on screen and lots of kissing can create a certain amount of pressure. Instead, consider the impact you want to have. You’d like to raise your date’s heartbeat a little, without making him or her feel unsafe. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has plenty of action with stunning wirework. Additionally, there’s a story of frustrated love which is perfect for evoking a yearning loneliness to make someone think longingly of you. It also helps that the film is beautifully shot against a vivid, mythic backdrop.

The Second Date: Stardust (2007)
By this point, you’re confessing interest so you’ll need a movie like Stardust.
Again, there’s enough action to give you that useful rush,
but here you’ve got a more overt love story. Stardust is about two people falling in love, despite their best intentions. Once again, the
movie is lovely to look at with enough action to keep the
romance from being the main focus. Why do I keep warning you off
romances? Because you want to be subtle still. What we’re doing here is social
engineering on a small scale. You’d like your date to leave the evening
feeling exhilarated and wanting to see more of you. A movie like Stardust will do the trick.

Going Steady: Groundhog Day (1993)
You’ve forgotten that there’s a romantic through line in this, haven’t you? Bill Murray’s character, Phil, is forced to relive the same day over and over. At first it’s torture; then he discovers joy in the familiar. And that’s what going steady is really about, isn’t it? If you stick around in this relationship, you’ll discover all the myriad comforts of the being with someone you know long term. What you’re creating by watching this movie together is a sense of relishing the known.

First Anniversary: Ladyhawke (1985)
Now you want a movie that is deeply romantic. In Ladyhawke, our lovers are kept apart by a terrible
curse: By day, she’s a hawk; by night he’s a wolf. They only see each
other for a split second at sunrise and sunset. It’s a movie full of
deep yearning and passion; this is what you should evoke for that
first anniversary. Even with the packed schedule of daily life, you
will spend your days and nights thinking of each other. I promise you, if
you watch this together, sundown will start to seem like a very special

Popping the Question: The Princess Bride (1987)

Again, we’re looking for something deeply romanticl… but
also one that you don’t have to pay close attention to in order to
enjoy. Why? Because your entire brain will be consumed with “We’re
getting married!” and the movie is just there to calm you down enough
to tell everyone you know, without screaming. If there is a more perfect movie about true
love, I don’t know what it is. Every scene is interesting in and of
itself so you won’t be totally lost if giddiness overwhelms you.
(Besides, if you both don’t love the movie, it will be, as my husband
says, a deal breaker.) And then
of course, there’s the wedding scene with the immortal words, “Maiwage.
Maiwage is what bwings us togethah.”

Now it’s your turn. What movies led you down the path to happily ever after?

Mary Robinette Kowal is the winner of the 2008 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. She is also the art director at Shimmer Magazine and a professional puppeteer. Her columns appears every Friday.

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