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When it comes to genre stereotypes, fantasy is divided into two diametrically opposed categories: One is targeted at 14-year old boys and depicts white men dominating helpless females (and their heaving bosoms) with phallic weaponry. The other is more girl friendly, dominated by fairies, lace and unicorns. And since I've never seen a stereotype I haven't wanted to poke at, let's take a look at the latter. You want girly? These fantasy chick flicks are calculated to have men running away screaming.
10. Sliding Doors (1998)
This one barely makes the cut because I actually know a number of guys who like it -- but only because of the multiple universe theory. What I like is how the parallel story lines of Helen's (Gwyneth Paltrow) life give me two chick flicks for the price of one. In the first, I get the story of new love. In the second, I get the story of a failing relationship. Both are tear-jerkers and yet the movie still manages a happy ending. Ah, romance.
9. Splash (1984)
With a chick flick of her tail, Darryl Hannah shows that mermaids, too, can deliver sappy endings. Allen (Tom Hanks) spends his entire life obsessed with the ideal woman, who just so happens to be a mermaid. No one else can measure up to her, which is how chicks want their dates to think about them. Then she shows up and he gets to live with her happily ever after -- if he gives up everything and lives under the sea. Nice devotion, but I like a little more give and take in my flicks.
8. Legend (1985)
Lusciously filmed so that each frame looks like Romantic period art, Legend has the innocent and beautiful heroine running around the woods in a lacy white dress chasing unicorns. Without getting the dress dirty! Or mussing her hair! Did I mention unicorns? For full disclosure: I could only watch the first 40 minutes -- in five minute installments -- before needing to run from all the twee. The presence of goblins is the only thing keeping this flick from a higher ranking.
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7. If Only (2004)
What a weeper this one is. Like Sliding Doors, it shows you two ways a life can go -- though not in parallel. It plays into the whole depressing idea that your love will only really understand you after you're dead. So halfway through the movie Samantha (Jennifer Love Hewitt) gets hit by a car. With a chance to live the day over again, her boyfriend, Ian Wyndham (Paul Nicholls) realizes what a treasure he has and ends up dying in her place. I'm sorry. Do we really need to romanticize this notion?
6. Penelope (2006)
This one is like Beauty and the Beast in reverse... or Shrek in forward. One of those "six of one" scenarios. What I like about it is that it's very focused on accepting people they way they are. This is important, because Penelope (Christina Ricci) has a pig's snout. What keeps the movie from the Top Five is that to get a happy ending it romanticizes class distinctions, since Penelope can only break the curse if "one of her kind" accepts her. Boo.
5. Ella Enchanted (2004)
Let me sum this one up for you: OMG! A Prince! OMG! I don't have a thing to wear! OK, there's a tiny bit more to it than that, but it's about as fraught with teenage angst as you can get and still maintain some fantasy cred (and nab the fifth spot). There's a sweet coming of age story in here, and Ella (Anne Hathaway) makes a strong and appealing female lead. And yes, it has the requisite happy ending that chicks flicks require.
4. Enchanted (2007)
I'll admit it: This one made me cry in the chickiest, flickiest way imaginable. I mean, you've got a princess in modern day New York who sways a confirmed cynic into believing in romance. Everyone gets married with happy endings galore. And singing rodents! And Ooh! There's fashion in this one, too: Pretty dresses, a trip to the salon and a ball! What more could a girl possibly want? Keep reading and you'll find out.
3 .City of Angels (1998)
Your boyfriend is a fallen angel. If the premise alone isn't enough to drive all the men out of the room, check out this sappy dialogue: "I would rather have had one breath of her hair, one kiss of her mouth, one touch of her hand, than eternity without it." Sniff. Hand me a hanky. You can just see all the chicks in the audience looking woefully at their dates and wondering why they can't find true romance like that. At least, they would if their dates were still around.
2. The Lake House (2006)
The biggest component of a fantasy chick flick is that something must prevent perfect lovers from being together. In this case, it's a two year gap in time. This leaves Kate (Sandra Bullock) free to pine for her love without ever realizing that he's Keanu Reeves. You've also got the wildly improbable happy ending that chick flicks crave: She saves him from CERTAIN DEATH, and then manages to bridge the gap in time. Then Kate lives happily ever after. With Keanu... OK, so it's almost a happy ending. What you really need is...
1. Kate and Leopold (2001)
So Kate (Meg Ryan) is this hot career woman, you know, and then, oh my God, she meets this hot guy Leopold, Duke of Albany (Hugh Jackman) who is totally hot and a time traveller. And did I mention hot? And he's like, you know, from 1876 so he's all like, really good with words and chivalry and stuff. He opens doors for her. If you want a fantasy that lets you have your career and your beefcake too, this is the number one flick for you.
Mary Robinette Kowal is the winner of the 2008 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and a professional puppeteer. Her first novel Shades of Milk and Honey is being published by Tor in 2010.