You know what a dragon is when you see one. Sometimes, it might be the very last thing you see. Whether they’re laying waste to fictional countrysides, defending the world from cataclysmic events, or just being the best friend of young heroes, dragons have an immense and immediate impact on whatever fantasy world to which they belong — and whether they’re good, evil, or as neutral as Switzerland when it comes to the conflicts of men, they’re always a fascinating addition to any narrative.
Our inspiration for looking back over decades of film and television to select the greatest dragons ever seen on screen is, of course, directly tied to the upcoming launch of two new tentpole series: The Game of Thrones prequel series House of the Dragon and Prime Video’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Okay, we only know for sure that one of those shows has dragons in it (hint: it’s the one with “Dragon” in the title), but this is still a big moment for fantasy storytelling on screen, and what better way to celebrate it than to celebrate what came before?
True story: In the early days of discussing this list, so many Consequence staff members got excited about the topic that we used the same system by which we vote on the best films and TV shows of the year to help determine this ranking. Not every dragon is the same — in digging into the subject matter, one discovers an immense amount of range in both how dragons have been depicted on screen, and how they’ve been defined. The one thing they all have in common: By every definition of the word, they’re awesome.
— Liz Shannon Miller
25. Taro, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)
Portrayed by: Ray Harryhausen’s groundbreaking visual effects
Friend or Foe? Foe
Special Skills: Size, strength
Beast Mode: Pretty damn good, even if Sinbad (Kerwin Mathews) first encounters him in chains — once freed, Taro fights and kills a cyclops, and with his last moments, even takes out the sorcerer who enslaved him.
Why They Rule: Created by legendary film animator Ray Harryhausen, Sinbad’s dragon remains an impressive technical achievement for the time period. Most importantly, while Harryhausen’s animation might seem rudimentary to modern eyes, he’s still able to invoke real empathy from the viewer with Taro’s death. (Taro innocent!) — L.S.M.
24. Surtur’s Fire Dragon, Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Friend or Foe? Foe
Special Skills: Flight, Fire breath, God of Thunder-catching speed and agility
Beast Mode: Consider this: Fire Dragon takes Thor to the point where he admits he’s “running short on options.” We’d be anxious to see what the monster might’ve done next had it not been beheaded by the Bifrost Bridge.
Why They Rule: Surtur’s pyromantic pet perfectly serves as the final boss in Ragnarok’s epic opening sequence. Ever the devoted companion, the Fire Dragon gives its life in pursuit of its incapacitated owner and shows how to permanently traumatize a couple of Asgardians on the way out with its disembodied head. — Bryan Kress
23. Queen Narissa, Enchanted (2007)
Portrayed by: Susan Sarandon
Friend or Foe? Foe. After climbing the Empire State Building in an attempt to kill Giselle (Amy Adams) so that she can keep her place on the ruling throne, it is clear that Queen Narissa is no friend to the soon-to-be princess — but it’s her alter-ego that’s the most frightening part about her: potential mother-in-law.
Special Skills: As a sorceress, Queen Narissa has great knowledge of dark magic, tapping into the ability to speak to her subjects in alternate dimensions, cast spells, and poison apples. The Queen of Andalasia also has the power to shape-shift into different forms, including but not limited to evil creatures such as dragons.
Beast Mode: Most likely. Not only does this dragon travel to an alternate universe to kill Giselle and her step-son, but Queen Narissa is also known to manipulate her subjects into falling deeply in love with her, fucking them up most with her convoluted mind games.
Why They Rule: Inspired by classic Disney villains including Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty and the Evil Queen from Snow White, Queen Narissa contains every evil character wrapped up in one. Her power spans multiple dimensions, traveling from the animated Andalasia to the live-action New York City to hunt down Giselle. A mystical creature-like human that possesses the ability to turn into a dragon at any given moment, this power-hungry creature won’t stop until she is assured of her throne. — Kelly Park
22. Sisu, Raya and The Last Dragon (2021)
Portrayed by: Awkwafina (voice)
Friend or Foe? Friend
Special Skills: Shape-shifting, water-related powers, wise, kind, hilarious, a dream best friend
Beast Mode: There are tougher dragons on this list, but Sisu is still a brave and powerful fighter — in part because of her abilities, but more importantly because of her loyalty and love for others.
Why They Rule: It probably shouldn’t have taken until 2021 for a major production studio to introduce a dragon hailing from Southeast Asia (we’re here, we exist!), but Sisu is a welcome and great new addition.
Raya and the Last Dragon itself was a great way to spotlight Southeast Asian countries into the popular canon, incorporating cultural themes and influences from the likes of Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, and more, and Sisu is a great mascot for these previously under-represented nations.
As voiced by Awkafina, Sisu is goofy as she is kind, as silly as she is perceptive, and an empathetic and crucial sidekick to Princess Raya (Kelly Marie Tran)’s journey in both discovering herself and helping to piece the land of Kumandra back together. If a dog is a man’s best friend, then a dragon is definitely a princess’s. — Cady Siregar
21. Saphira, Eragon (2006)
Portrayed by: Rachel Weisz (voice)
Friend or Foe? Friend
Special Skills: Telepathy, flying
Beast Mode: While certainly not as powerful as other dragons on this list, Saphira benefits from her partnership with the titular character of young Eragon (Ed Speleers), the two of them working as a team to fight the forces of evil King Galbatorix (John Malkovich).
Why They Rule: Upon its release, terrible reviews doomed Eragon from making an impact in the realm of fantasy adaptations. But as a CGI creation, Saphira is pretty impressive, with a birdlike design to her wings that helps her stand out amongst the other dragons here. Also, she is shiny and blue and voiced by Rachel Weisz, and that’s neat. Disney is currently developing a new version of Eragon that might hopefully learn from the mistakes of the original, but perhaps they might also see if Weisz isn’t busy. — L.S.M.
20. The Great Protector, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
Friend or Foe? Friend
Special Skills: Flight, strength, water manipulation, defense, impeccable timing
Beast Mode: It’s all in the name: The Great Protector will swoop in to defend the people of Ta Lo whenever she’s needed, but maybe not a second earlier. It’s no wonder the mythical village was built right on the water.
Why They Rule: Though the soul-eating Dweller-in-Darkness is ultimately felled by a magically-enhanced human and one well-notched arrow from a complete novice archer, The Great Protector is the glue that (literally) pulls the team out of the trenches. Her temporary capture being able to wring heartfelt despair from the audience after only minutes on-screen: that’s true power. — B. Kress
19. Vermithrax Pejorative, Dragonslayer (1981)
Portrayed by: Andy Aaron (voice), Industrial Light & Magic (puppetry)
Friend or Foe? Foe
Special Skills: As one of the most classic on-screen dragons, it’s understandable that Vermithrax Pejorative has pretty classic dragon abilities. Flight, fire, strength, longevity, and surprising agility as among her most prominent traits, on top of which she seems to be able to breathe underwater. She also possess a cunning cruelty, demonstrated by her ability to make a deal with the king for virgin sacrifices – and to deceive the same king by hiding her dragonets.
Beast Mode: Does something with the name “Vermithrax Pejorative” seem like you’d want to mess with it? That name translates from Latin to mean “The Wyrm of Thrace that makes things Worse,” so we’re gonna say no. 40-feet long with a 90-foot wingspan, this 400-year-old beast is one of the most terrifying dragons ever put on film. Add in the fact that she’s utterly spiteful due to living in constant pain in her advanced age, and this is a dragon you definitely don’t want to encounter.
Why They Rule: Vermithrax Pejorative is the dragon your favorite dragon-maker looks to for inspiration. That’s not hyperbole: George R.R. Martin cites her as his favorite cinematic dragon, even dubbing one of the dragons of the House Targaryen Vermithrax (whose skull is displayed in the Red Keep).
The composite shots from Dragonslayer may look extremely of-their-time, but thanks to Industrial Light and Magic’s team of designers and special effects artists (who used 25% of the film’s $18 million budget to create 16 dragon puppets), Vermithrax Pejorative remains one of the most gruesome, intimidating, and terrifying dragons ever put to film. — Ben Kaye
18. Ord, Dragon Tales (1999-2005)
Portrayed by: Ty Olsson (voice)
Friend or Foe? Ord is your silly, clumsy best friend. He is allergic to dandelions, and despite his large size, he has a long-running list of fears, including darkness and thunder, both of which he learns to overcome throughout each episode of DragonTales.
Special Skills: When he wants to hide from his fears and anxieties, Ord has the ability to turn invisible. However, when he faces his fear rather than running from it, his dragon badge glows, affirming his bravery and displaying the ultimate sign of courage.
Beast Mode: Ord is incapable of hurting a living creature. Out of all the creatures on DragonTales, the bashful dragon remains one of the most kind. (That said — take away one of his cupcakes, and it’s a different story.)
Why They Rule: Dragon Tales follows a brother and sister and their two dragon friends, but Ord, the giant blue half of the dragon duo, is perhaps Dragon Tales’ most endearing character. He is always found munching on food and will never leave the house without bringing snacks along for the journey – his favorite snack including “dragon corn,” a dragon’s version of popcorn. Smart dragon. — K.P.
17. Dragon/Elizabeth, Shrek (2001)
Portrayed by: Frank Welker (voice)
Friend or Foe? Initially foe, but later friend (and more than a friend to Donkey)
Special Skills: Flight, fire-breathing, prehensile tail? Check, check, check. Can protect a castle, can FALL IN LOVE, and can be a MOTHER, which is a pretty special skill IMHO.
Beast Mode: Dragon is a stone-cold killer. She merked the countless knights who attempted to rescue Princess Fiona from her castle/prison before Shrek showed up, so she’s willing and able to fuck a motherfucker up. She would’ve slaughtered an ogre and a talking donkey if said talking donkey wasn’t so damn charming, which means she does have a weakness for ass.
Why They Rule: To go from nearly eating a talking donkey to falling in love with said talking donkey and bearing his hybrid donkey-dragon babies? That’s growth. Dragon doesn’t speak a single word throughout five Shrek on-screen appearances, but she plays a pivotal role in multiple films, assisting our central protagonists time and time again. She’s an icon, she’s a legend and she is the moment. — Spencer Dukoff
16. “Buck”/”Bull” Dragon, Reign of Fire (2002)
Friend or Foe? Very much foe
Special Skills: Particularly nasty fire-breathing, and the ability to fertilize the eggs of the female dragons, thus making him integral to the continuity of the species.
Beast Mode: This boy is nasty, a huge mother whose fire breath can engulf an entire castle in one go. He’s also pretty good at swallowing Matthew McConaugheys whole.
Why They Rule: 2002’s Reign of Fire was unfairly slept on, a neat little genre exercise that posited a post-apocalyptic world besieged by fire-breathing dragons, and what the remnants of humanity would do to fight back. The dragons as a whole were really uniquely designed, revolutionizing a lot of design cues (bat-like wings with holes in them to show their age, the flamethrower-like mechanism behind their dragon breath) that Harry Potter and Game of Thrones would later adopt. And the “Bull” Dragon, with his gargantuan size and terrifying wingspan, was the most impressive of all of them. – Clint Worthington
15. Norbert(a), Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
Friend or Foe? Friend (if you ask Hagrid)
Special Skills: Melting Hagrid’s heart, biting Ron. (We meet Norbert in the first Harry Potter film before the dragon is born: Professor Quirrell has gifted a dragon egg to Hagrid, who has a known soft spot for magical creatures with the ability to maim once they’re fully grown. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are with Hagrid in his hut when the egg hatches, and a baby Norwegian Ridgeback pops out. Hagrid names the dragon Norbert, and thinks the fire-breathing creature is the sweetest thing.)
Beast Mode: Well, they have venomous fangs and can breathe fire at a very young age. (In the books, the wee Norbert bit Ron’s hand, which earned the Weasley a trip to the infirmary.)
And if you’re a sea mammal, a Norwegian Ridgeback will likely want to eat you for dinner. According to Newt Scamander’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, one Ridgeback in Norway once made off with a whale calf — no small feat even for a fire-breathing, venomous dragon. Norbert specifically just got too big for Hagrid to handle, so in the movies, other folks on Hogwarts staff noticed the growing dragon and had him shipped to Romania.
Why They Rule: Any dragon that has Hagrid as its mummy is a pretty amazing dragon. In the Deathly Hallows book, we also find out from Ron’s brother Charles that Norbert is actually a female dragon, renamed Norberta. How did Charles know that Norbert was actually a she? Because female dragons are much more violent and ferocious. — Vanessa Armstrong
14. Puff, Puff the Magic Dragon (1978)
Portrayed by: Burgess Meredith (voice)
Friend or Foe? Puff is an absolute friend. In the TV special, the creature befriends a little boy named Jackie Draper (Philip Tanzini) and takes him on a journey to Honalee to show him the beauty and magic of inner happiness. He is not so much a monster, but rather a big friendly, flying, fire-breathing companion.
Special Skills: This dragon is the king of arts and crafts. Puff creates a paper doll version of his friend Jackie, bringing him to life to show him what his life without fear could be like, and he crafts a boat from common bedroom items to travel the mystical world of Honalee. The dragon also has the power to reveal hidden desires, allowing him to help his friends achieve what they most long for.
Beast Mode: Highly Unlikely, seeing how Puff teaches Jackie how to overcome his greatest fears and re-sparks joy in his fear-ridden life.
Why They Rule: Not only is this dragon a friend to all – kings, princes, and pirates alike – Puff also teaches us that bravery is the noblest characteristic one could possess. — K.P.
13. Charizard, Pokémon (1997-present)
Portrayed by: Shin-ichiro Miki (Japan) / Michael Haigney (Original Series US) / Unknown (Detective Pikachu)
Friend or Foe? Friend in the animated seires, Foe in Detective Pikachu
Special Skills: After evolving from Charmeleon (itself evolved from Charmander), Charizard can level up to Mega Charizard X (gaining Tough Claws) or Mega Charizard Y (gaining Drought), as well as Gigantamax Charizard (gaining G-Max Wildfire). In its standard Charizard form, some of its more powerful attack abilities include Flare Blitz, Heat Wave, Inferno, Fire Spin, and of course Flamethrower.
Beast Mode: Easily the most fierce Pokémon from the first generation of pocket monsters, Charizard is not to be taken lightly. He’s big, mean, and fiery, and any trainer who evolves their Charmander all the way up to its final form has an easy go-to companion for battles of almost any difficulty. In fact, Charizard is such a sureshot character, that they had to declaw him (so to speak) in the original Pokémon anime by making him disobedient to his trainer, Ash.
Why They Rule: Next to Pikachu, perhaps no creature is more readily connected to the Pokémon universe than Charizard. Trading cards featuring the dragon-type character regularly fetch six-figures, and there’s a reason he was considered a “must-have” appearance in Detective Pikachu. You simply cannot mention the world of Pokémon without bringing up Charizard, and considering the media franchise currently features some 905 Pokémon and Charizard is one of the first 10, that’s saying something. — B. Kaye
12. Maleficent, Sleeping Beauty (1959)
Portrayed by: Eleanor Audley (voice)
Friend or Foe? Foe
Special Skills: Terrifying yellow-green hued fire, putting damsels to sleep, frightening young children in general
Beast Mode: Disney movies can still be tearjerkers — Moana, we’re looking at you — but it’s easy to forget how genuinely scary Disney movies used to be. While Prince Philip (one of the superior classic Disney princes TBH) is racing to wake Aurora, he’s faced with a perilous series of obstacles, the final being Maleficent’s transformation into an enormous, fearsome dragon.
Why They Rule: At the end of the day, Maleficent is next-level powerful, and her dragon form is one to which we should all bow down. Toss in that sweeping, climactic score from Tchaikovsky himself and you’ve got a recipe for an unforgettable monster. — Mary Siroky
11. Balthromaw, Rick and Morty (2019)
Portrayed by: Liam Cunningham (voice)
Friend or Foe? Friend
Special Skills: Dragons in the uncomfortably sexual realm from which Balthromaw comes can “soul-bond” with other beings in an orgasmic ritual, intertwining their lives not unlike what happens in DragonHeart.
Beast Mode: By himself, Balthromaw isn’t terribly threatening. He doesn’t seem to like doing much of the typical dragon stuff, instead preferring to laze around on his hoard (Ecto-Cooler!) and get blitzed on inhaling volcanic fumes. He’s designed to be a threatening-looking creature, but his worst crime is probably letting all the animals loose in the zoo.
Now, you get him into a 10-slut soul orgy to form the All-Slut Phoenix Dragon Slut, and you’ve got yourself a dragon to be feared.
Why They Rule: Using a badass-looking dragon to mock fantasy (even while unabashedly loving it, as Dan Harmon does) is very on par for Rick and Marty. However, so is having it mean something greater about humanity.
While the episode does more to “start” conversation than provide any actual nuance or insight, “Claw and Hoarder: Special Ricktim’s Morty” is clearly commenting on the ideas of slut shaming and toxicity. Balthromaw himself is kind of a heel, but his purpose as a reflection on ideas about sexual freedom and unhealthy relationships gives him more value than a talking cat. — B. Kaye
10. Drogon, Game of Thrones (2011)
Friend or Foe? Friend to Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clark), foe to anyone in Daenerys’s way
Special Skills: Flying, strength, breathing fire
Beast Mode: Extremely high. Just ask any of the many, many people Drogon set on fire during Game of Thrones, often at the command of his mother. Daenerys named her two other dragons, Rhaegal and Viserion, after her Targaryen brothers, but Drogon was named after Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) and Drogo’s badass legacy lives on in his namesake.
Why They Rule: The one surviving dragon of Daenerys Targaryen’s brood, Drogon was also the most fearsome of the three, last seen melting the Iron Throne to a puddle before flying away with Daenerys’s body. Drogon became more of a prop than a character in Season 8 of the series, with one of the show’s biggest unanswered questions being why he didn’t avenge Daenerys’s death, but some of his biggest moments over the course of the series are also some of the most iconic dragon-related moments seen on television, ever. — L.S.M.
09. Falkor, The Neverending Story (1984)
Portrayed by: Alan Oppenheimer (voice)
Friend or Foe? Friend, of course. He’s a Luck Dragon!
Special Skills: Blue fire, and (most importantly) incredible, improbable good luck
Beast Mode: If you get on his bad side, sure; he’s as loyal as he is lucky, so good luck crossing one of his friends.
Why They Rule: Falkor’s one of the most iconic dragons ever committed to page or screen, and it’s easy to see why. He’s your best friend, protector, good luck charm, and transportation all in one, with the wisdom of a sage and the thick white fur of a samoyed. Who wouldn’t love him? And that gravity-defying flying scene in Wolfgang Petersen’s (RIP) classic remains etched in the imaginations of generations of kids who dream of the freedom of flight (or, failing that, the concept of getting back at your childhood bullies). – C.W.
08. Elliot, Pete’s Dragon (1977/2016)
Friend or Foe? Friend — Pete’s only friend, in fact
Special Skills: Besides flight, a kind of camouflage that lets him stay hidden in the forests he calls home
Beast Mode: Exceedingly unlikely, since Elliott’s overriding impulse is to be kind and loving to his best friend Pete. In fact, he’s more in danger from the humans around him than anything else.
Why They Rule: The original 1977 Pete’s Dragon isn’t…. great, so we’re not very concerned with that version of Elliott (spelled with two t’s in that one). But David Lowery’s remake is easily the most successful of the Disney live-action adaptations, and a lot of that has to do with Elliot himself.
He’s a remarkable CG creation, chock-a-block with adorable expressiveness and an impressive wingspan (and a thick lining of fur that makes him feel more like a big ol’ dog with wings than the more lizard-like versions we’re used to). And his relationship with Pete is incredibly sweet, two lost souls who found each other in the wake of tragedy. – C.W.
07. Draco, Dragonheart (1996)
Portrayed by: Sean Connery (voice)
Friend or Foe? Friend
Special Skills: On top of your standard flight and fire-breathing, dragons in the world of DragonHeart can transfer some of their life-force to other beings by literally sharing a piece of their heart. Draco’s gift to Einon is what sets the whole movie in motion and leads to its heartbreaking end, as while the dragon lives, the tyrannical king cannot die.
Draco also possesses a steadfast sense of honor, as well as a keen cunning, the latter of which pairs well with his ability to camouflage. He also demonstrates expert swimming skills and the ability to hold his breath underwater for an extended period of time.
Beast Mode: As the last of his kind, Draco is not a dragon to go down without a fight. He’s immensely strong, and his range of abilities — fire-breathing, camouflage, flight — make him a fierce opponent. But what is always going to give Draco his edge is his cunning; though he never has to battle anyone truly his equal in DragonHeart, you get the impression he could take down a beast twice his size on intelligence alone.
Why They Rule: As a 10-year-old, DragonHeart was one of the first contemporary dragon tales I encountered, so there’s undoubtedly a nostalgic bias here. That said, Draco is what you want a dragon to be. He’s a badass looking creature (dated CGI notwithstanding) with a range of abilities making him a fearsome beast – but that potential ferocity really serves as a reflection of mankind’s viciousness rather than being brutal in and of itself.
The dragon sticks to an old sense of honor long abandoned by his human contemporaries, who have turned to ways far more destructive than anything ever perpetrated by winged lizards. In that way, he is more terrifying as a reminder of how far mankind has fallen than as a beast of claws, jaws, and flame.
And of course, it took an actor like Sean Connery to give that dichotomy voice. Connery’s timbre always had that perfect balance of gruff and wise, giving Draco exactly the tone needed to carry the depth of his character through the CGI. — B. Kaye
06. Haku, Spirited Away (2001)
Portrayed by: Miyu Irino (Japanese), Jason Marsden (English)
Friend or Foe? Friend (and love interest to the film’s protagonist, Chihiro)
Special Skills: Flight, the ability to transform into a tween with a cute li’l bob haircut
Beast Mode: Theoretically likely, due to his size and occasional brusqueness, but really he’s a big, moody marshmallow of a river spirit.
Why They Rule: Of all of Hayao Miyazaki’s wide cadre of mystical sadbois, Spirited Away’s Haku stands out by dint of his unique curse: he’s a river spirit damned to represent a river that no longer exists, cursed to serve the tyrannical Yubaba no matter how much pain he receives. He’s a literal lost soul, a gruff loner who keeps Chihiro at a distance until her kindness breaks through his defenses. And their free fall near the end of the film is one of Miyazaki’s most achingly beautiful moments. – C.W.
05. Fang, Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005-2007)
Portrayed by: N/A (Fang communicates telepathically, but only using images and emotions)
Friend or Foe? Friend
Special Skills: In his physical form: flight, fire, and the Avatar/animal guide bond. In his Spirit World form: telepathy (via his tentacle-like whiskers), invisibility, and the ability to convey visitors to the Spirit World both through and out of it.
Beast Mode: Look — you never want to go up against an Avatar’s animal guide, no matter what form they happen to be in. For one thing, every animal in the Avatar’s world has at least twice as much going on as its more prosaic counterparts might have in other fantasy worlds.
But what should be even more worrisome is the fact that, if you’ve put yourself in a position to face an Avatar’s animal guide, you’ve put yourself in the position to face the Avatar, themself.
That said, while Fang would have been beyond intimidating to go up against when both he and Roku were still alive, as a member of the Spirit World, his deal is less “fuck a motherfucker up” than it is “help a motherfucker find wisdom and give their heart some peace.” Which, one could argue, is the signal of true Beast Mode.
Why They Rule: Something that both Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra both excel at is turning both fantasy tropes and character archetypes inside out and seeing what might be hiding within. By making the Avatar’s Spirit World guide not just a fearsome dragon, but also the former animal guide of Fire Nation Avatar, who was warlord Emperor Sozin’s childhood best friend, A:TLA is giving its audience one more way to understand that the world isn’t black and white, and that problems can only be solved if they’re approached with both nuance and grace. – Alexis Gunderson
04. King Ghidorah, The Godzilla Franchise (1964-present)
Friend or Foe? Mostly foe, though he teamed up with Mothra once in 2001’s Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack!
Special Skills: Flight, gravity beams, chain lightning from its wings, and, well, the whole has-three-heads-to-chomp-you-with thing
Beast Mode: Very likely — King Ghidorah is often depicted as Godzilla’s archnemesis, a kaiju from another world who’s out to either destroy or control Earth, depending on which film/era/version you’re watching. You’ve gotta be pretty bad to stand out amongst the King of the Monster’s rogue’s gallery.
Why They Rule: It takes a mighty powerful dragon to plague the Earth (and its atomic-breathing protector) for a half-century and running, and King Ghidorah certainly fits the bill. He just plain looks cool, too, with his three long necks holding a trio of snapping dragon heads, and that dark gold color scheme.
Even 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters knew to treat him with suitably apocalyptic scale, looming over landscapes (and Godzilla himself) as if he owned the place. He’s one of the few Godzilla villains to feel truly scary, even in his rubber-suit years, and that’s something we should treasure. – C.W.
03. Mushu, Mulan (1998)
Portrayed by: Eddie Murphy (voice)
Friend or Foe? Best Friend
Special Skills: Transformation, distraction, comic relief, general whimsy
Beast Mode: Is Mushu the fiercest, or even the most put-together dragon of all? Maybe not, but he is certainly one of the best Disney creature companions of all time.
Why They Rule: Okay, sure, so not everything about the character of Mushu has aged perfectly since the release of Disney’s Mulan in 1998. Let’s be real here and start with the name — there’s a chance the folks at Disney landed on the first American-accessible Chinese phrase that came to mind and ran with it.
Even so, the classic Disney interpretation of the legend of Fa Mulan is so loved to this day for plenty of good reasons, not the least of which is the music. Imagine listening to “I’ll Make a Man Out Of You” and not immediately feeling ready to run a 5k! Ultimately, if you don’t love Mushu, there’s really only one thing to say: dishonor on you, dishonor on your cow… you know the rest. — M.S.
02. Smaug, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug/The Battle of the Five Armies (2013/2014)
Portrayed by: Benedict Cumberbatch
Friend or Foe? Foe!
Special Skills: Hoarding treasure, impenetrable scales (except for one tiny spot…), wicked intelligence. He’s also very good at being an arrogant prick, which ultimately leads to his downfall
Beast Mode: Smaug was a fire-drake and was thought to be the last great dragon of Middle-earth. Like most dragons of note, Smaug could fly and breathe fire. He was also huge — bigger than two jumbo jets — and was so strong he could crash his way out of the Lonely Mountain with little effort. The dude could mess you up if he wanted to — just ask the Dwarves who used to live in the Lonely Mountain.
At the beginning of The Hobbit trilogy, he’s more than happy to snooze the days away in the Lonely Mountain. But when Bilbo wakes his slumber and has the gall to try to “borrow” a cup, Smaug is more than ready to burn Lake-town to the ground for working for the Hobbit.
Why They Rule: Smaug, thanks to the visual effects of Weta Digital and the voice and motion-captured performance of Cumberbatch, is fully fleshed-out and scintillating sinister. Smaug is a major a-hole, yes, but he’s a vibrant a-hole who is unarguably the star of the second Hobbit film. To put it another way, Smaug is the worst, but in the best way possible. — V.A.
01. Toothless, How to Train Your Dragon (2010-2019)
Portrayed by: Randy Thom (voice), Cassidy Curtis and Gabe Hordos (supervising animators)
Friend or Foe? Friend!
Special Skills: Retractable teeth, vice-like bite strength, advanced dragon-to-human emotional intelligence, intense loyalty, superior strategizing skills, high-speed flight (like, faster than the speed of sound high-speed), precision dive-bombing attacks, precision plasma blasts, the ability to channel the electricity in lightning (and thus cloak himself in lightning storms), echolocation, swimming, art
Beast Mode: Well, the entire premise of the original How to Train Your Dragon movie is based in the repuatation Night Furies have of being the scariest dragons in the whole damn sky! Sure, the rest of the movie is all about the dangers of making monsters out of dragons (and people) that could just as easily be your friends, but the fact remains: as a Night Fury, Toothless is a fearsome, nearly unbeatable foe. And if you threaten his person? Odin help you.
Why They Rule: Okay obviously Toothless is an ideal battle mate and surprisingly effective war (and peace!) strategist, but we’d be remiss in not mentioning the fact that he is just so cute. Seriously, the range! Also, of all the dragons to grace this list, Toothless is the only one who has anything close to a real-world feathered dinosaur doppelgänger. Again — the range. – A.G.