The land of Sean and Madonna played family counselor to America in 1987, as comfy virtues whomped the empty thrills of cheap sex and corner-office careers.

Mothers were put back on pedestals and carefree bachelors cooed over baby poo. Families were picket-fence perfect -- the children adorable, the wives supportive. Only a fool -- like Michael Douglas in "Fatal Attraction" -- would risk it all to make a big splash in a sink with a career gal. But unfaithful fathers got their comeuppance.

The studios pitted fetal against fatal attractions, and fetal won, hands down.

If you didn't have your very own bundle of joy, you were sure to want one by the end of "Three Men and a Baby," "Raising Arizona" or "Baby Boom." You'd have thought Gerber, instead of Coke, had started buying up studios.

Aimless lives were transformed as audiences aahed. Pregnant 40-year-olds saw their choices affirmed as callow yuppie Diane Keaton gave up her high-powered job and repaired to the country with an orphan in "Baby Boom." In these days of "you can have it all," she ended up with her baby, a gourmet baby food business and a husband played by Sam Shepard. Keaton's new office held a desk and a crib; she worked twice as hard, but now she was fulfilled.

"Three Men and a Baby," on the other hand, pandered to the '80s dad, the guy who sweats through Lamaze and takes his turn getting up to feed Junior. He's vindicated when he sees handsome bachelors resentfully take in a foundling, then find themselves smitten by the 6-month-old, right down to her didies. They didn't know what they had been missing till they nurtured; before they found baby in the foyer, all they had were women, wine and glamor careers.

And wouldn't you know it: That baby attracted even more fabulous babes. If we're to believe Hollywood, infants are the new aphrodisiac. If you want to please a man, give him a baby whether he wants one or not. After all, the unwed mother who abandoned hers on the three men's stoop ended up with all of them.

This didn't explain the growing number of single-parent households headed by women, or so many children living in poverty as a result. But on some arcane level, it seemed to be Hollywood's way of tackling these issues.

Nuclear Reactionism The message was not merely about progeny, but about parents as well -- fathers in particular. You don't have to be Bill Cosby, the movies told us, to be super dad. In fact, the weirder your credentials the better. Even Jack Nicholson's devil played daddy when "The Witches of Eastwick," a coven of three, gave birth to Rosemary's baby boom. In the end, the devil had to live in the TV set, but what better way to influence young children?

Along came Sylvester Stallone. Maybe in real life he left his wife and child to run off with great big Gitte, but in "Over the Top" the lovable lug was reunited with his son. At his dying ex-wife's request, he drove the alienated boy cross-country in his 18-wheeler for an arm-wrestling championship. En route, they cemented their relationship by practicing wrist exercises and eating at truck stops. Whatever works.

And then, Birth Fangs, The Movie: Desperate for a nuclear family, the paterfamilial vampire in "The Lost Boys" proposed to a California divorce'e whose two sons got along quite well with his own odd brood. There was, of course, a hitch: Nuptials would be at night and nobody would be drinking champagne.

But most macabre was "The Stepfather," a serial killer who married into, then murdered off entire families when things started to go wrong. More than just another scary movie, it served as a metaphor for the death of the sitcom family. In this single mother's nightmare, women and children are prey. On another level, you get the feeling old dad, a guy with a fondness for kitchen knives, had watched one too many episodes of "Leave It to Beaver" and got confused about cleavers. "Fatal Attraction" and "Someone to Watch Over Me" taught the same lessons, albeit with higher production values.

At last, deliverance: A reformed convenience store robber and his infertile wife became proud parents in "Raising Arizona," one of the year's best comedies. Unable to adopt because of his prison record, they simply kidnaped a quintuplet. They were pursued by various other eccentrics, including the Mad Motorcyclist of the Apocalypse, and finally decided to give the baby back. But while they had him, these baby rustlers parented with Huxtablean panache.

Lust Busters Meanwhile, in real America, it sometimes seemed the nuclear family was falling apart. Even evangelists and politicians strayed. Somebody had to pay. No wonder then that the cautionary "Fatal Attraction" became the hottest movie of the year.

The thriller pushed all the buttons -- right down to the alarm on that biological clock. A happily married man had a life-threatening fling with a fortyish book editor who became obsessed with the relationship and pregnant with his child. The goal here was not so much to scare men into monogamy as it was to scare them into respecting the sanctity of the home -- and to warn women out of the work place.

Glenn Close, the predatory career woman, pushed her nose against the window pane of the happy Douglas household, and she wanted to be in there bad enough to boil bunnies. But she had to pay for her sins just like a teen-age slut in a high school horror film. And mom, who had pretty much forgiven dad, did the deed. "Nobody messes with my family," she said, much as Dirty Harry would have. Then she pumped a couple of slugs into her.

"Someone to Watch Over Me" had a similar premise, only it was the blue-collar version. Dad, a cop played by Tom Berenger, had the idyllic Queens-style family -- a delightful wife and an athletic young son. His wife remained chaste on screen, all the better to contrast with the other woman, an heiress who witnessed a murder and whose life was threatened by the killer.

Assigned to protect her, Berenger soon became infatuated. Meanwhile, the killer held the Berenger family hostage to exchange for the witness. Again it was the mother, a former policewoman, who pumped the sucker full of lead. The camera pulled away from a reunited, sobbing, hugging family of three. Another nativity, featuring the father, his son and the immaculate, macho mom.

The other woman skulked off in her chauffeur-driven limo.

Mutual Distractions Certainly sexually active women fared no better than usual last year -- consider Sean Young's frisky call girl in "No Way Out." She took a dive into a glass-topped table after Kevin Costner took her for a ride in that limo. There were other, less notable victims, including those two headless wantons in Norman Mailer's "Tough Guys Don't Dance," but that you'd expect from a world-renowned misogynist.

However, Theresa Russell's husband-murdering heroine of "The Black Widow" got even for Young, Close and company. She even did away with that pesky Dennis Hopper, and would have done away with a score more if a pesky woman FBI agent hadn't got in the way. And "Outrageous Fortune" heroines Bette Midler and Shelley Long female-bonded as they tracked down the two-timing double agent who did them wrong. Feminism, what's left of it, met the new intolerance for fooling around.

Granted there may be a touch of AIDS paranoia behind all this. But mostly moviemakers have picked up on the mainstream's nostalgia for old values in these morally bankrupt days. Happily they're spiking the new puritanism with some of the sweatingest scenery since "Body Heat." Frankly, Close and Douglas looked like they were having a pretty good time turning on those faucets. Likewise Young and Costner squirming in the back seat of that limo. Even Keaton and Shepard shared a deep kiss by her refrigerator. (The kitchen is the new in place.)

No, it doesn't look as though we'll be seeing remakes of "Pillow Talk" -- babies up to our kneecaps probably, but also good old-fashioned, tilt-me-back-and-plant-one-on-me romance. In fact one of the year's most enjoyable movies showed you could have your cake and ethics, too. "The Big Easy," that classy romantic thriller, saw straitlaced lawyer Ellen Barkin reject the best thing that ever happened to her -- a near irresistible Cajun cop played by Dennis Quaid. After one of the most memorable love scenes of all time, she was smitten. But when she learned he was crooked, she threw him over. All ended happily, but only after he reformed.

Holly Hunter, however, couldn't change William Hurt's principles in "Broadcast News," the shrewd slap at "Entertainment Tonight"-style network news. Hunter played a producer gone swoony over Hurt's airhead anchor. Albert Brooks, a reporter who shared her belief in journalistic integrity, couldn't get to first base. Hurt did, but Hunter found out that he had faked tears in an interview and signed off for good. We're left with the feeling that someday her prince would come.

In fact, princes did come back. The charming comic fairy tale "The Princess Bride" was all about finding, and remaining faithful to, your own true love. Even those perennial prince-seekers "Snow White" and "Cinderella" were brought back -- to big box offices -- in 1987.

We can only hope that neither ended up with a philanderer.