With the release of Disney’s Pete’s Dragon this past weekend, we thought we’d take a look at movies containing dragons that sometimes get overlooked. We have already brought you a Best Dragon Movies list, but this time we thought we’d take it a step further, and look a little deeper.
What about those films that may or may not be critical or commercial successes, but are cool because they showcase dragons? The films that bring to life a beloved character, or perhaps an amazing dragon battle? That is this list. While the quality of the following films may be suspect, they are included because they either bring something new to the genre, or they helped fulfill every nerdy fantasy of book lovers and game players alike. Sometimes it’s more about that one perfect shot, and bringing something special to life, than it is about the film as a whole. Sometimes, that’s enough.
So, here are 15 Nerdy But Cool Movies With Dragons
Honorable Mention: Game Of Thrones
No, it’s not technically a film, but HBO’s Game Of Thrones is cinematic enough to give many a film a run for its money. The series, based on the novels by George R.R. Martin, is quickly becoming the benchmark for all fantasy, whether on television or the silver screen, and with good reason. It’s dirty and gritty and brings a realism to the genre that is often missing when dealing with magic, prophesies and yes, dragons.
What the showrunners have done to bring the world of Westeros to life is pretty astounding and it’s never more true than when dealing with Daenerys and her dragons. Drogon, Viserion, and Rhaegal are a sight to behold and anyone who has ever read A Song Of Ice And Fire had to have a tear in their eye when they were brought to life on TV. For bringing the boys to such vivid life, the special effects team for the show gets an honorable mention on this list.
15. The Flight Of Dragons
Directed by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass, this 1982 animated film tells the story of a knight and a scientist who set out to stop an evil wizard from taking over the world. The film stars the voice talents of John Ritter, Bob McFadden, Alexandra Stoddart, Don Messick, Nellie Bellflower and James Earl Jones. It was released as a direct to home video title, although it did play as the Saturday Evening Movie on ABC in 1986.
The film combines some more adult themes and dialogue than others in the genre that were released at the time, making it a film that adults could enjoy with their children. It has gained cult status over the years and is an interesting take on the debate between magic and science, showing why both the practical and whimsical are important. While it doesn’t really stand up, given how much animation has evolved over the years, it is an important film for the generation that grew up with it, with its retro cool vibe.
14. Dragon Wars
The biggest-ever Korean made film, Dragon Wars (or D-Wars as it is known to North American audiences) was directed by Shin Hyung-rae in 2007. The film starred Jason Behr, Amanda Brooks, Robert Forster, Chris Mulkey and Elizabeth Pena. Shin Hyung-rae went with a mostly American cast, hoping to appeal to a wider ranging audience. Didn’t really work out so well for him.
Panned by critics, the film was poorly received by North American audiences. The one thing they all agreed upon, however, was that the film is visually stunning. That’s not surprising, given that the CGI work took more than three years to complete, and forced the budget to three times its original estimate. The film was a huge hit in its first week of release in Korea, but overall only managed to make $75 million worldwide. Guess once audiences saw it, they didn’t head back for a second viewing, or tell their friends about it. The film makes this list because the action and visuals are amazing and because it shines a light on Korean culture, mythology and history, which is under-represented in these parts of the world.
13. The Neverending Story
The quintessential 1980s classic, The Neverending Story, was released in 1984. The film starred Noah Hathaway, Barret Oliver, Tami Stronach and Gerald McRaney and was directed by Wolfgang Petersen. It is loosely based on the first half of the book, The Neverending Story by Michael Ende (who hated the film and sued producers to have production halted, and then to stop the release – he lost).
This film made the list because Falkor, the luck dragon, is an interesting take on what a dragon actually is. He is kind of a cross between a dragon and a dog, who can talk… which is kind of weird when you think about it. His adventures with Atreyu and their bid to stop the destruction of Fantasia is both awe-inspiring and a little frightening. They, and this film, made an impact on an entire generation and extolled the virtues of reading and using your imagination. If that’s not nerdy, then we don’t know what is.
12. The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad
Released in 1958, this film starred Kerwin Mathews, Torin Thatcher, Kathryn Grant, Richard Eyer and Alec Mango. It was directed by Nathan H. Juran and was the first of three Sinbad films released by Columbia Pictures, although the other two weren’t made and released until the 1970s. This one is considered the best of the bunch. A Ray Harryhausen masterpiece, it took him more than eleven months to create the widescreen, stop-motion sequences for the film. This film was also the first time that Harryhausen’s ‘Dynamation’ label was used for the technique.
The film is critically acclaimed, although many think it may be the nostalgia factor kicking in, as the story itself isn’t all that special. This is what Harryhausen did best, however, and this film showcases his talent and enthusiasm perfectly. Sadly, stop motion is becoming a lost art, which is unfortunate because it has such a special place in film history. Although it may not stand up to today’s standards, this film is on this list because of what it means to the film history, and because Harryhausen’s work is amazing.
11. Reign Of Fire
Directed by Rob Bowman and starring Matthew McConaughey and Christian Bale, Reign Of Fire was released in 2002. The cast also included Izabella Scorupco and Gerard Butler, and it tells the story of a post-apocalyptic world where dragons have decimated most of the human race and have taken over the Earth. A group of survivors, led by Quinn Abercromby (Bale) and Denton Van Zan (probably the coolest name for a character ever), band together to hunt the only male dragon, hoping that by killing it, they will stop the beasts from reproducing, and take back the planet.
The film received poor reviews by critics, being compared to a not so good B-movie. It did spawn a video game which was also poorly received, getting the same criticism as the film – striking visuals but a story that falls flat. The film is included on this list because it’s a film about dragons being at the top of the food chain and wiping humans off the face of the earth. That, and Matthew McConaughey actually gets eaten by one of them. Can’t get any nerdier, or cooler, than that!
Based on the novel of the same name by Christopher Paolini, Eragon was directed by Stefen Fangmeier. The cast included Ed Speleers, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Guillory, Djimon Hounsou, Garett Hedlund, Rachel Weisz and John Malkovich. The original book was independently published when Paolini was 19 years old, but became a bestseller when it was discovered and re-released through a traditional publisher.
The film is a bit of a dichotomy, being both among the worst-reviewed and highest-grossing films of 2006. It also has the distinction of being the final film to be released on VHS in the United States. While the CGI work and the visuals of the film were praised, critics didn’t really like anything else about the film, calling it ‘unimaginative’, ‘derivative,’ ‘generic’ and slammed it for bringing nothing new to the genre. Its Star Wars influences were extremely apparent to audiences that grew up with those films, and it couldn’t live up to comparisons to the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, which was released around the same time. The film was so poorly received that the other books in the series have not been adapted. Still, because of Saphira and her magnificence, it deserves a spot on this list.
This 2007 computer animated film was directed by Robert Zemeckis, based on a screenplay written by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary. The film stars Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Robin Wright, John Malkovich, Brendan Gleeson, Crispin Glover and Angelina Jolie, who used motion capture technology to create their characters. All of the characters bear a remarkable resemblance to the actors that play them (except for Beowulf himself, as Winstone only provided the voice. The physical model for the character was actually model/actor Alan Ritchson). A video game, Beowulf: The Game was released by Ubisoft and featured the voice of the film cast. Also released were a novelization of the film and a four issue comic book series by IDW.
Critically acclaimed, the film is as a great leap forward for mo-cap technology. It took liberties with its source material, the epic poem of the same name. The film makes this list because of its origins and its awesome use of motion capture. The dragon is also Beowulf’s son, which is weird and kind of meta, and if you squint really hard, sort of cool, once you get past the ick factor.
8. Dungeons & Dragons
Released in 2000, Dungeons & Dragons was directed by Courtney Solomon. The film stars Justin Whalin, Marlon Wayans, Thora Burch and Jeremy Irons and is based on the role-playing game of the same name.
The critical response to the film was dismal, which is evidenced by its current rating of 10% on Rotten Tomatoes. The only bright spot critics seemed to agree on was Jeremy Irons, as the evil Mage Profion, who spent his time chewing up the scenery to great effect. Even though the film is pretty terrible, it is on this list because of the D&D title, and the fact that, aside from the 1980s cartoon, it was the first real attempt to bring the game to life on a screen. Though it failed rather miserably, it still holds a place in many geeky hearts and has garnered a bit of a cult following over the years. Too bad that its poor reception has kept studios away from the property, as there is huge potential for not only a film, but a franchise in there somewhere.
Directed by Rob Cohen, Dragonheart is a 1996 fantasy film starrin Dennis Quaid, David Thewlis, Pete Postlethwaite, Dina Meyer, Jason Isaacs, Julie Christie and Sean Connery. It tells the story of a dragon-slaying knight and his reluctant friendship with the last dragon in the land. It’s also a fun twist on the knight in shining armor trope, as Bowen (the knight) and Draco (the dragon) end up becoming a team and set out to con the unassuming masses. The film is also an interesting look at what makes someone who they are, and what makes them that way.
The film was not exceptionally well received by critics, but the consensus was that it was visually stunning. While not the first CGI character on the big screen, Draco is considered the first CGI dragon ever to appear in a film. The movie spawned both a direct to DVD sequel, Dragonheart: A New Beginning, as well as a direct to DVD prequel, Dragonheart 3: The Sorcerer’s Curse. The concept was also adapted into a number of video games, which were poorly received due to poor game play and awful graphics. It makes it on this list because of the twist to the trope, its cult classic status and because anything with Sean Connery is automatically cool.
6. Gojira vs. Kingu Gidora
Directed by Kazuki Omori, this film was released in Japan in 1991 and is the eighteenth film of the Godzilla franchise. North American audiences didn’t get to see this gem until 1998, when it was released as a direct to home video title by Columbia TriStar. The film has a bit of a convoluted plot that involves time travel (because producers thought that audiences wanted films with time travel plots, due to the films predecessor, Godzilla vs. Biollante, performing poorly against Back To The Future Part 2). Basically, a group of time travelers lands in present day Japan and convinces everyone that Godzilla is a threat and must be stopped before he can be created. They accomplish this, but then create King Ghidorah and use him to take over the country. This leads to a differently mutated Godzilla (it’s a long story) to appear, and the two face off.
Like all of the Japanese Godzilla films, this one’s action included men in suits and puppetry, and it’s glorious. While not a masterpiece by film standards, it’s strictly on this list because not only is it Godzilla versus a three headed dragon, who he defeats, he is then forced to fight Mecha-King Ghidorah, who is brought in from the future by one of the time travelers. Classic and campy and just plain cool!
This fantasy film starring Peter MacNicol, Caitlin Clarke, Ralph Richardson, Chloe Salaman and Ian McDiarmid was released in 1981. It was directed by Matthew Robbins and tells the story of a sorcerer and his quest to vanquish a dragon, who is terrorizing the kingdom of Urland. The dragon in this film was created using a combination of puppetry, scale models, including a forty foot hydraulic replica, the go-motion technique (the next step in stop-motion animation, originally created during filming of The Empire Strikes Back) and animated graphics done by Industrial Light And Magic.
The film was fairly well received, it had a mediocre box office haul but became a cult classic when it was released on home video. Its detractors claim that it is just a sword and sorcery rip-off of Star Wars (how is that a bad thing?). The story has been adapted into various novelizations, a comic book series and a board game. It is included on this list for its stunning visual effects and the affect that the film had on present day creators of fantasy, like Guillermo del Toro, Alex Bledsoe and George R.R. Martin, but would have been included regardless, just due to the dragon’s name: Vermithrax Pejorative.
4. Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire
The fourth film in the Harry Potter series, Goblet Of Fire was directed by Mike Newell in 2005. Like the others, the film stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Gary Oldman and Alan Rickman. During his fourth year of Hogwarts, Harry is forced to compete in the Tri-Wizard Tournament, and the dark lord makes his return.
It is here that we get our first look at the full grown dragons of this world (our first look was baby Norbert in The Philosopher’s Stone) Harry’s battle with the Hungarian Horntail during the first trial is fantastic, the visuals and CGI a spectacular achievement. Like most of the Harry Potter films, this one was well received by critics and fans alike, and was the highest grossing film of the year, coming in at $896.9 million on a budget of $150 million. It makes this list because Warner Bros. did a masterful job of adapting the entire series of books to film, and it’s always great to see our favorite literary characters get the big screen adaptation they deserve. Special recognition goes to The Deathly Hallows as well, because the escape from Gringots on the back of the Ukrainian Ironbelly was just as breathtaking.
3. The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug
Released in 2013, The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug was directed by Peter Jackson and stars Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Orlando Bloom and Benedict Cumberbatch. The second film in The Hobbit trilogy, it is considered the best of the three by many, and this film finds Bilbo and the Dwarves going head to head with the dragon Smaug in the city of Erebor, inside the Lonely Mountain.
This film makes the list because it brings the beloved Tolkien novel to spectacular life, with Smaug being a particular standout. The CGI done to create him is masterful, with Cumberbatch’s voice being the icing on the cake. No matter what the feeling of the overall trilogy of films, seeing Smaug in all his glory, come to life and verbally spar with Bilbo is a pretty special. It was like Jackson tore the words right of the page ad brought them to life, much to the delight of our nerdy little hearts.
2. How To Train Your Dragon
This 2010 animated film used the voice talents of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig and Jonah Hill to create its cast. It was directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, but cinematographer Roger Deakins was hired as consultant on the film, to help bring a sense of ‘live-action’ to the story. The film is loosely based on the book series by Cressida Cowell.
What makes it so special is the beautiful animation work coupled with a killer score by John Powell. The story is also an interesting take on the whole dragon slayer trope that made Toothless a misunderstood creature and not a villain at all. The film spawned a sequel that is considered by many to be even better than the original and unlike other animated films, it actually aged the characters, giving audiences a feeling of growing with them. Because of these reasons, and the fact that Hiccup is a bit of a nerd himself, the film makes this list.
1. Spirited Away
This 2001 Japanese anime film was directed by Hayao Miyazaki and starred Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki, Takeshi Naito and Ken Yasuda. The film was translated into English by The Walt Disney Company as part of their US distribution rights deal, which was supervised by Pixar’s John Lasseter. The film tells the story of ten-year-old Chihiro Ogina, who, upon moving to a new city with her family, accidentally get sucked in to the spirit world. When her parents are turned into pigs, it’s up to her to find a way to turn them back and free them all.
Critically acclaimed, the film is the highest grossing, and most successful, Japanese film of all time and won the Academy Award for best animated feature in 2003. It has the distinction of being the only completely hand drawn film to win the title, as all the others have had some form of computer animation attached to them. It is on this list because it is not only a stunning film, but it is also amazing for the story it tells. It’s on lists of the best films of all time everywhere you look – and it’s got a dragon in it!
So, there you have it: nerdy, but cool films that showcase dragons. This is by no means a comprehensive list, as there are plenty of film dragons out there. Did your favorite make the list? Which films, or dragons, would you include? Let us know in the comments!