The dragon is a staple of so many fantasy stories that it can be difficult to keep up with them all.
Dragons in different universes abide by different rules; some are friendly, some are clever, some are pure evil, and some are trainable. What all dragons have in common is that in the realm of TV and movies, they need to look good to properly play their part in the story. There are hundreds of dragons that have shown up on screens throughout the years, so while this list does not claim to be any kind of definitive guide, these are five of our favorite representations of dragons on screen.
There’s plenty not to like in the recent three-part film adaptation of The Hobbit. That isn’t to say the films didn’t have any redeeming qualities, though. Among them was Smaug, the dragon whose residence inside The Lonely Mountain is central to the story’s plot; bungling this character would have detracted from the quality of the overall series so immensely that it would’ve rendered the films more or less unwatchable. Smaug was well portrayed, as far as we’re concerned. He was majestic, powerful, and above all, clever. Credit is due to Benedict Cumberbatch, who voiced the dragon, but more than anything to the graphics team that brought Smaug to life.
His movements all appear lifelike and believable. Live-action dragons are extremely tough to make realistic, as evidenced by the almost limitless number of films and TV shows that have failed to do it well. The Hobbit films succeed brilliantly though, and viewers don’t have to suspend their disbelief one bit to be moved by this compelling creature.
Every Dragon In ‘How to Train Your Dragon’
One of the most impressive things about Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon is the sheer number and variety of dragons in the film. By creating different classes of dragons in a world where seeing a dragon is almost as common as seeing a pigeon, the animators had a hefty workload, but managed to create a myriad of unique, fantastically cartoonish dragons — each one of them a character worth getting to know.
Haku in Spirited Away has a special place on this list for being the only dragon who thoroughly stole our hearts away. Throughout the movie Haku aids and defends our protagonist, Chihiro, whose love ultimately saves his life. It isn’t just Haku and Chihiro’s relationship that makes this dragon special though.
At one point in the film, Haku is being pursued by a small air force of deadly-fast paper planes. He flies around and dodges them as long as he can in a memorable chase scene that delivers some of the most breathtaking animation in an already visually overwhelming film. Haku’s pure optic majesty — not out of the norm considering that the film was made by Studio Ghibli — and good-heartedness earns him high marks in our book.
Drogon, Rhaegal, Viserion
The dragons on Game of Thrones are special, no two ways about it. First, let's consider the fact that Daenerys Targaryen hatched three supposedly dormant dragon’s eggs into living, (fire) breathing dragons through some bizarre fire ritual we still don’t fully understand. It’s one of the more interesting origin stories in recent memory. The dragons get bigger and more ferocious with every season of the show, and charting that evolution presents the animators who make them with a unique challenge.
Still, they manage to make Rhaegal, Viserion, and Drogon some of the best-looking dragons that have ever graced the screen. Not skimping on production quality is what makes Game of Thrones the groundbreaking TV fantasy series that it is, and that philosophy applies to the show’s winged fire breathers, too.
Credit where credit is due: Maleficent, aka the wicked-witch-turned-dragon in Sleeping Beauty, might just be the scariest dragon to ever be featured in a film. She screams of “all the powers of hell!” before turning into a black and purple dragon who spits green fire. As the forest of thorns she recently created is engulfed, the interplay between colors — yellow and green flames, with black silhouettes contrasting against them in the foreground — makes the climactic fight scene in this film a visual feast. Maleficent set the standard for Hollywood dragons, and she continues to be a reliable benchmark even after almost 60 years.
- We left video games out because their addition would really make this a complicated race, but who are some of your favorite video game dragons?
- Who is your favorite TV or movie dragon? Did your dragon make our list or would you have picked five completely different ones?
- No mythical creature commands quite the same amount of fanfare, awe, and fascination as the dragon. Why do you think the dragon is so pervasive in human culture?
- Is poor “Puff” still waiting in his cave for Jackie to visit?