Every year, filmmakers, artists, and writers of fiction do their best to think up increasingly wondrous and terrifying monsters to haunt the nightmares and daydreams of their audiences. But few fictional beasts have proven as lasting – or as awe-inspiring – as the wing-flapping, fire-breathing dragon.
While the passage of time has seen dragons on film and in literature become bigger, meaner, more dangerous (and even smarter), a few instances have managed to stand out above the rest. With The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug bringing yet another to life, the creatures show no signs of vacating the big screen any time soon.
Whether remembered for their ferocity, their tenacity, or even their friendly demeanor, here is our list of Our 10 Favorite Movie Dragons.
The only thing scarier than a dragon, a three-headed dragon? The creature may be best remembered as a foe of Godzilla, but the titular star of Ghidorah… (and its signature shrieks) has become so iconic, it’s almost as recognizable as the series’ mutated hero.
The reasons for that are fairly obvious: gifted with a trio of heads, arms are rendered a complete afterthought. Differing from other Godzilla monsters in that it hails from outer space, and breathing ‘Gravity Beams’ as opposed to fire, Ghidorah remains the most invincible ‘dragon-like’ creature on record.
The only possible challenger: Mecha-King Ghidorah.
The premise of Disney’s Pete’s Dragon – an orphan escapes his adopted hillbilly family with his invisible dragon in tow – may not be as tried-and-true as other dragon-centric stories like “Beowulf” or the tales of King Arthur, but for every child who saw it, the movie was a dream come true.
Elliott may not be what the average moviegoer would classify as a traditional dragon, being far friendlier and less lethal than most (although the creatures responsible for his enormous belly may disagree).
But possessing the ability to breathe fire, and even turn invisible to anyone but Pete, Elliott posed a question that would puzzle children for the rest of their lives: could there ever be a better best friend than a fire-breathing dragon? (Editor’s note: no, there couldn’t).
If there’s one thing that the world can thank Dragonheart for, it’s answering the age-old question of what voice would come out of a dragon’s mouth if it was capable of human speech. In hindsight, Sean Connery was the only real answer, but the wisdom and intelligence that the voice projected did justice to the film’s fiction.
Depicting dragons as a wise, ancient race as opposed to mindless monsters, was a welcome change, not to mention a way of casting every previous ‘dragons layer’ in a less flattering light.
The movie is best described as a buddy comedy led by a dragon (Connery) and dragonslayer (Dennis Quaid), meaning that just like its fire-breathing star, it’s one of a kind.
Every genre of film or special effect has one production that most filmmakers point to as convincing them that the impossible had suddenly fallen within their grasp, and for fantasy buffs or creature freaks, Dragonslayer was one of them.
To make Vermithrax Pejorative, the central antagonist of the movie, the special effects team at Industrial Light and Magic had to use models, composite shots, and even full-scale replicas of the dragon’s claws and head.
The result was the most convincing dragon seen on film to that point, and a creature that fantasy fans like George R.R. Martin and Guillermo del Toro call their personal favorite.
If one animated film is in no need of further complimenting, it is director Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. Hailed as one of the greatest animated features, and one of the most beloved ever produced by Japan’s Studio Ghibli, the blend of supernatural and mysticism it possesses is unparalleled.
When the young heroine Chihiro accidentally crosses into a spirit world, she is brought face to face with a number of odd characters – none more memorable than Haku, a young river spirit with the ability to transform into a flying dragon.
With fur replacing rough scales, Haku is one of the friendlier and trustworthy dragons on our list; just one more reason every child should get to experience Spirited Away at one some point.
Since the book series upon which Eragon was based was written by a young person, for other young people, it should come as no surprise that the dragon at its heart is one that any child would dream of.
Hatched from a small blue egg, the mighty Saphira proved to be the kind of dragon anyone would wish for: wise, caring, and fiercely loyal. The movie may not have been a hit with critics as much as it was with young readers, but few criticized the impact and staying power of Saphira herself.
Children may only be able to dream about riding a dragon through the clouds or into battle, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t bring every blue rock they find home – just in case.
It’s fair to say that Falkor the Luckdragon isn’t the creature that usually comes to mind when picturing flying fire-breathers, but if dragons can be friends and not foes, then never was the sentiment truer.
The iconic luckdragon has become the face of the series spawned by The Neverending Story, and it’s clear to see why: combining the best traits of both dragons and dogs, Falkor is essentially the perfect animal ally.
With the ability to breathe blue fire and ‘swim’ through the air – and as the name implies, a lucky streak – Falkor is just as fierce as he is friendly. Especially when he’s not getting his ears scratched.
It was never a question that the scene-stealing Toothless of How To Train Your Dragon would make our list, as easily one of the most endearing dragons that has ever been featured on film, let alone an animated one.
The story of the film may be a family-friendly one, but the relationship formed between Toothless (don’t let the name fool you) and the young hero Hiccup doesn’t skip over the fact that befriending a wild animal is never easy. Especially when the animal in question is referred to as a ‘Night Fury’ by those who fear it.
Our list proves that having a dragon for a best friend is a desire that children will likely always possess, but for the foreseeable future Toothless may be the most coveted of all.
Due to their origins in medieval fantasy, the idea of dragons living in today’s world has been, and remains, a largely unexplored idea. But that was the core premise of Reign of Fire, telling the tale of just how the world would fare if dragons were suddenly released upon it.
The film claimed the world would fare quite poorly, with a majority of the population and nearly all major population centers burned to the ground, serving as food for the flying beasts. The film also added a twist: all dragons were the children (and mates) of a single male.
To end the dragon race, only one, then, would have to be slain. But the male dragon proved that for those who feel the creatures should be feared, not befriended, there’s no better evidence than Reign of Fire‘s monsters.
Smaug’s brief appearance in the prologue of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was enough to prove that Tolkien’s dragon was going to live up to his many titles (“the Magnificent,” “King Under the Mountain”), but in The Desolation of Smaug, he upped the ante.
Talking dragons are nothing new, but in Smaug’s case, intelligence made him more chilling, not less. Much of that credit is owed to Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as the dragon, but the effects team deserves a special nod for giving our nightmares their newest star.
That’s just 10 fire-breathers who have warmed our hearts (or chilled us to the bone), but there are dozens more to choose from. Which movie dragons have become your favorite over the years? Was it due to their own actions, or the films they appeared in?
Be sure to mention your own favorites in the comments, and a reminder: dragon fans won’t want to miss Smaug’s arrival into these respectable ranks.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is in theaters now.
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