Even before Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves arrives in theaters this weekend, it seems like dragons are everywhere you look in pop culture these days. They’re on TV, in games and books, and especially in films. In that spirit we’ve put together a list of our favorite dragons from the big screen (sorry Game Of Thrones fans, we’re just looking at movies this time). Here you’ll find traditionally animated dragons as well as CGI versions, friendly ones, angry ones, and greedy ones, both male and female. Some of them talk, while others just fly around and burn things. They’re often defined by their relationships to humans, or one human in particular. Many of them are the last of their kind. This isn’t a comprehensive list of all the cinematic dragons ever created, it’s just a rundown of the ones we especially enjoy based on their personalities, designs, or a combination of both.
16. Dragon from Shrek
Sometimes referred to as Elizabeth, Shrek’s Dragon is a fun twist on the stereotypical fire-breathing tormenter. Shrek (Mike Myers) and Donkey (Eddie Murphy) first encounter her while attempting to rescue Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) from her tower. In the Shrek tradition of upending audience expectations, she’s not a bad dragon; she’s just a little lonely. When she meets Donkey it’s love at first sight. It takes him some time to come around, but eventually the two become romantically involved and even start a family of “dronkeys.” Dragon has appeared in every Shrek movie since the original, saving the day at least twice. Dragon’s sweet disposition embodies the theme of looking beyond appearances that runs through the franchise. That being said, the animators found a wonderful combination of tenderness and frightfulness in her design.
15. Ladon from Shazam! Fury Of The Gods
The oldest dragon on this list (based on the year of the film’s release) is from 1959, while the newest is this one from ... two weeks ago. Its origins are are truly ancient, though. Like the other creatures in Shazam! Fury Of The Gods, the dragon known as Ladon comes from Greek mythology. He was the guardian of the Garden of the Hesperides, often depicted as a serpent wrapped around the tree that bears the golden apples. In the film it’s not Hespera (Helen Mirren) who summons him but Kalypso (Lucy Liu), who wants to use a golden apple to destroy the earth. Fitting for an ancient beast, Ladon is massive and shredded, in the sense that his wings are tattered and full of holes. He flies around the city breathing blue fire and causing mass destruction in the film’s most epic battle.
14. Eustace Scrubb from The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader
When we first meet Eustace Scrubb (played by a young Will Poulter) in the third Chronicles Of Narnia film he’s an annoying and entitled brat who instantly resents his orphaned cousins, the Pevensie children, when they come to live with him. He doesn’t get much more pleasant after they’re all transported to Narnia and rescued by Prince Caspian and the crew of the Dawn Treader. It isn’t until he’s transformed into a dragon after stealing some cursed treasure that he even becomes tolerable. He spends the rest of the film redeeming himself, and ultimately gets changed back after learning his lesson. We still prefer him as a dragon, though.
13. The alpha dragon from Reign Of Fire
The high-concept action film Reign Of Fire is mostly remembered for introducing dragons into a modern, post-apocalyptic world. If you think that’s a bizarre combination, we feel obliged to remind you that Matthew McConaughey, Christian Bale, and Gerard Butler all shared the screen in this film. That’s a lot of chaotic energy to contain. There aren’t really any specific dragons we can single out here, as they don’t have names or personalities beyond “kill all humans.” The most significant of them is the one male dragon responsible for repopulating the entire species after his hibernation chamber is breached during construction on the London underground. Questionable biology aside, these fearsome apex predators were a huge step forward for dragon VFX, and became a template that other on-screen dragons would follow.
12. Saphira from Eragon
The film adaptation of Christopher Paolini’s 2002 novel Eragon didn’t have the same cultural impact as its bestselling source material, due to its lackluster storytelling, generic fantasy setting, and wooden performances. If there’s one bright spot to this failed adventure, though, it’s the rendering of the titular hero’s beloved blue dragon, Saphira. That’s no surprise considering the film’s first-time director Stefen Fangmeier came from the world of visual effects (he hasn’t directed a film since). Voiced by Rachel Weisz she’s wry, formidable, and charismatic. Her relationship with Eragon, though not quite what it was in the books, comes through from the moment we meet her as an adorable, freshly hatched baby dragon into the massive creature of battle she is by the end of the film.
11. The Great Protector from Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings
The Great Protector lives up to her name in Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings, the MCU’s interpretation of the character’s origin story. She dwells under the waters of Ta Lo, inside a mystical realm where people live side-by-side with creatures from Chinese mythology. When Shang-Chi’s (Simu Liu) father Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung) is seduced by the soul-eating Dweller-in-Darkness, The Great Protector appears to help Shang-Chi stop him from releasing its dark power into the world. We only get a few scenes of the dragon during the big battle of the film’s climax, but her streaked red-and-white design is impressively cool. Marvel has already announced another Shang-Chi film, so hopefully we’ll get to see her again.
10. Haku From Spirited Away
In Hayao Miyazaki’s spectacular animated masterpiece Spirited Away, we first meet Haku as a boy who helps the protagonist, Chihiro, when she is trapped in a bathhouse patronized by spirits. Later on she discovers that he’s actually a dragon, the guardian spirit of the Kohaku river, although he doesn’t remember. His dragon form is inspired by Japanese folklore, with a long, white, scaled body. Throughout the story he is a devoted and loyal friend to Chihiro. By the end of the story they are bound together by love, but the nature of the love they share is open to interpretation. Some have speculated that Haku may be the spirit of Chihiro’s dead brother, who drowned while trying to save her after she fell into the river.
9. Mushu from Mulan
Don’t be fooled by his tiny stature, Mushu from Mulan is a brave and diligent guardian. Except for that one time he got a soldier from the Fa family decapitated, but that’s all in the past. Looking for a promotion from the lowly position of incense burner and gong ringer, he appears to Mulan (Ming-Na Wen/Lea Salonga) to help her become a hero before she heads to war in place of her father. Mushu wouldn’t be the spitfire he is without the voice of Eddie Murphy, a reliable source of comic relief throughout the film. He was such a popular character he was not only brought back for the sequel (with voice double Mark Moseley stepping in for Murphy) but can be seen in many other venues, including video games and theme park appearances.
8. Falkor From The Neverending Story
A luck dragon from the land of Fantasia, Falkor represents optimism and perseverance in the face of great adversity. Although The Neverending Story is based on a German tale, Falkor is an Asian-style dragon, long and nimble, with a face that combines canine and feline traits. Together with a young hero named Atreyu and a human boy named Bastian, he helps save Fantasia from the growing threat of “The Nothing.” Veteran character actor Alan Oppenheimer lent his warm baritone voice to Falkor, giving him a sense of gravitas and wisdom. In addition to the 1984 original film, Falkor would appear in two sequels and an animated series. It’s impossible to come away from the film without wishing you had a luck dragon of your own.
7. Elliot from Pete’s Dragon
Whether you first met him in Disney’s 1977 film or in the significantly different 2016 remake, you’ve got to love Elliot. Named for actor Elliot Gould (a friend of screenwriter Malcolm Marmorstein) he was originally supposed to be invisible through the entire film. Fortunately, the creative team determined that was “no fun” and brought on Don Bluth (The Land Before Time) as animation director to develop Elliot as a character using the same techniques the studio employed in earlier films like Mary Poppins and Bedknobs And Broomsticks. The plump and somewhat goofy-looking Elliot of the original film is much cuddlier than the more realistic digital effect created for the remake, but in both versions he’s the best pal and protector a young orphan boy could want.
6. Sisu from Raya And The Last Dragon
Disney’s Raya And The Last Dragon offers a different kind of dragon, one far removed from the leather-winged, lizard-like creatures of European origin. Sisu (voiced by Awkwafina) is a water dragon inspired by the naga, magical beings common in Southeast Asian folklore. In the film, Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) summons Sisu to help save the land of Kumandra from the Druun, mindless evil spirits that turn everything in their path to ash and stone. The last remaining sibling in a family of powerful dragons, Sisu is admittedly “not, like, the best dragon.” She does acquire some cool powers as the story progresses, though, including the ability to turn into a human. Her good humor, kindness, and ability to see the best in people help Raya to learn lessons that reinforce the film’s main message—the importance of trust and unity.
5. Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty
Maleficent’s transformation into a dragon in Sleeping Beauty is one of the most spectacular moments of the film, and one of the best climaxes of any animated Disney film ever. You wouldn’t want to run into either of them in the woods at night, but Maleficent in her dragon form is truly terrifying. Ask anyone who saw the film at a tender age and they’ll likely be able to recall a memory of being scared at some point during the battle between Prince Philip and the dragon. With a body modeled after a rattlesnake and a bilious color scheme matching her human appearance, she towers menacingly over the daring hero, breathing acid fire. “Now shall you deal with me, oh prince,” she tells him. “And all the powers of hell!” What an exquisite diva.
4. Draco from DragonHeart
Back in 1996, the underrated fantasy adventure DragonHeart gave us a noble dragon with the voice of Sean Connery and a dynamic personality to match. Draco, as he comes to be known, initially teams up with Sir Bowen, a dragonslaying knight played by Dennis Quaid, to con local villages by staging fake attacks and getting paid for protection. It’s a solid concept, complicated by a plot involving a tyrannical king (David Thewlis) who has half of Draco’s heart. The film’s creative team, including Phil Tippett once again, were able to make use of the same technology that brought the dinosaurs back to life in Jurassic Park three years earlier. As a result, Draco feels as real and alive as any of the human characters. His emotional final scene is made even more memorable by composer Randy Edelman’s soaring score, which has been constantly repurposed in trailers and other media since the film came out. You may not think you know it, but you do.
3. Vermithrax Pejorative from Dragonslayer
Can we agree that Vermithrax Pejorative is the best dragon name ever? As that magnificent name implies, she is a formidable and monstrous beast. Despite being co-produced by Disney (along with Paramount), Dragonslayer isn’t your average lighthearted family fantasy. It’s dark, weird, and brutal; kind of like Vermithrax herself. The story follows a wizard’s apprentice (Peter MacNicol) who is enlisted by a shady king to deal with the dragon after a series of maiden sacrifices don’t do the trick. To bring Vermithrax to life, legendary Creature designer Phil Tippett perfected the go-motion process of model animation he first used in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, which had just come out the year before. The results are awesome (in the old sense of the word). If you haven’t seen the film, or if it’s been a while, it’s worth noting that Paramount just released remastered Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD editions, which include a joint commentary by the film’s director, Matthew Robbins, and Guillermo del Toro, who has cited Vermithrax one of his favorite dragons of all time.
2. Smaug from The Hobbit trilogy
The most famous dragon from J.R.R. Tolkien’s works (there was more than one, you know) is the great Lord Smaug, antagonist of The Hobbit. In the Peter Jackson film trilogy based on the novel he’s voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, who also performed his movements via motion capture. Brought to awe-inspiring life by Weta Digital, Smaug has all the qualities you want in a classic dragon—a cunning mind, vicious temperament, and massive size. In the tradition of wealth-hoarding dragons, he greedily guards a vast treasure of gold and valuables within the Lonely Mountain, once the home of a thriving dwarven kingdom. His scenes with Bilbo (Martin Freeman) in the second film, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, are some of the best of the entire series.
1. Toothless from How To Train Your Dragon
If we included all the dragons from the massive How To Train Your Dragon franchise this list wouldn’t have room for dragons from anything else. None of them is as special as Toothless, though. Whip smart, often playful, and fiercely loyal, Toothless (so named for his retractable teeth) is a Night Fury, the last of his kind. He shares a strong bond with his trainer, Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), a viking from the fictional Isle of Berk. How To Train Your Dragon is a dual coming-of-age tale, as the two of them combat prejudice, find love, and discover new worlds together. Due in no small part to Toothless’ popularity with audiences young and old, the original film spawned two How To Train Your Dragon sequels, three TV shows, games, books (it actually started as a book series), and more. Universal has also announced a live-action version and has already staked out a very specific and far-off release date: March 24, 2025.