This weekend sees the premiere of HBO’s Game of Thrones spinoff series, House of the Dragon. What better time to celebrate one of fiction’s great mythical beasts?
The Polygon staff has put our heads (and wings) together to bring you our favorite dragons from movies and TV beyond the world of Westeros. Included are fearsome dragons, silly dragons, and pretty much everything in between.
Who are your favorite dragons in fiction? We limited our selections to movies and TV, but that doesn’t mean you have to! Let us know in the comments.
From: Sleeping Beauty
Fun fact about me: Long before her appearance in the Kingdom Hearts video game series or Angelina Jolie’s portrayal in Robert Stromberg’s 2014 dark fantasy movie, Maleficent was my favorite Disney villain as a kid. I mostly attribute this to lead animator Marc Davis’ impeccable concept design and Eleanor Audley’s grandiose vocal performance, which combined elevated an otherwise one-note antagonist into a scene-stealing villainess for the ages. Needless to say, I can’t tell you how many times I rewound my VHS copy of Sleeping Beauty during Prince Phillip’s climactic battle against Maleficent, now transformed into a terrifying fire-breathing dragon. Is it a bit messed up that a part of me was rooting for her to win in the end? Possibly, but I regret nothing. —Toussaint Egan
From: How to Train Your Dragon
Toothless is the king of dragons because he is actually just the perfect combination of cat and dog — from his antsy and chaotic energy to his playfulness and diehard loyalty. He’s goofy and loves good head scratchies, but he also jumps into battle to defend Hiccup, his human friend who built a mobility device to help him fly after a disabling injury. And that’s just in the first movie! The entire trilogy is incredible, and Toothless is an absolute champion — friend to human and dragon alike. I would die for that good boy. I’m not crying, you’re crying. —Nicole Clark
From: Spirited Away
At first, Haku from Hayao Miyazaki’s 2001 masterpiece is just a boy, sober and competent, with an absolutely fierce pageboy haircut. Then, he’s a dragon, both serpentine and wolflike, both gorgeous and frighteningly wild. He corkscrews through the sky, not as if he were flying but as if he was the wind itself — one of the most thrilling expressions of flight from a director who had a career-long obsession with depicting it. But even this isn’t Haku’s full, elemental self. Haku is in fact a river, an actual force of nature, and it’s his soul — and more to the point, his polluted body — that our young heroine Sen must save.
Miyazaki makes his environmental point, but Spirited Away is never about just one interpretation, or one point of view. This magical film exists in the space between worlds, and no character better demonstrates that than Haku. —Oli Welsh
From: The NeverEnding Story
Even if you only dimly remember this 1984 fantasy film, two things about it will be scored indelibly into your brain: the theme song written by Giorgio Moroder and sung by Limahl, and the image of a boy riding a giant, fluffy, white, stoned-looking dragon-dog-thing through the clouds.
That’s Falkor the luckdragon, who kindly assists both Atreyu, hero of Fantasia, and Bastian, the boy reading a book about Atreyu’s adventures. His bizarre, shaggy, dopey look was conceived by director Wolfgang Petersen; special effects director Brian Johnson wasn’t too happy about it. But Petersen’s vision has been borne out. This is quite a strange and haunting film and Falkor is its signature image, beloved of a generation of kids. —OW
The sexy dragon from Shrek
Dragon, the sexy dragon from Shrek, is a pop culture icon. Because Shrek has turned into a cultural juggernaut and endless source of memes, the big plot twist that the dragon was a lonely, hot lady dragon who just wanted a little loving got a bit lost. But it was revolutionary when it happened — and also revolutionary that Dragon and Donkey had a bunch of mutant children.
Dragon is a certified baddie and the only bad thing about her is that she definitely should’ve been featured in more movies. I paid homage to Dragon with a Halloween costume last year and I hope I did her justice.
Also — did you know that the dragon in Shrek is actually named Elizabeth? I sure didn’t. Technically, this could just be a bit, but at one point, Donkey shouts, “I’m coming, Elizabeth!” while fainting. —Petrana Radulovic
From: The original The Hobbit
Forget Peter Jackson’s CGI Smaug in the ridiculously overstretched live-action version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit; real ones know that the OG version in the 1977 Rankin-Bass movie is one of the all-time great movie dragons. Have Gun – Will Travel star Richard Boone gave him a gravelly, rich, aristocratic purr of a voice, but the animators made him a uniquely visceral monster. This isn’t some upsized version of a familiar reptilian creature, or a sleek fantasy wish-fulfillment pet; Smaug is illustrated with intimidatingly fine details, with irregular teeth, coarse hair sprouting from his face and back, and a bulk that suggests a predator big enough to eat whenever and wherever he wants. The Rankin-Bass version picks up what Tolkien was laying down in drawing his dragon from classic heroic epics: This is a beast of an older, more primal age, something fearsome in size and power that’s also fearsome in its craft and cunning, even if he’s ultimately vain enough to be tricked into courting his own death. —Tasha Robinson
Puff the Magic Dragon
From: The 1970s animated special
The friendly dragon of Peter, Paul and Mary’s classic song got a trio of gently absurdist animated TV outings in the 1970s and ’80s, courtesy of CBS. Burgess Meredith voiced the dragon, a kind of ersatz adult capable of both offering wisdom and of seeing the world with the same outsized imaginations as the kids he helps. Written by Romeo Muller, who also scripted the 1970s adaptation of The Hobbit and wrote many of Rankin-Bass’ stop-motion holiday specials, Puff the Magic Dragon and its follow-up specials positioned the genial dragon as a kind of combination fantasy BFF and insightful child psychologist, leading his kids through weird fantasy lands that help them process childhood traumas and get past their own dysfunctional defensive mechanisms. Where the original song has him sadly retiring into oblivion when his original child companion grows up and forgets about him, these specials suggested that Puff is a kind of eternal way station for troubled kids — and that imaginary friends are a helpful tool on the path to growing up. —TR
From: Raya and the Last Dragon
We’re so used to TV and movie dragons representing some form of power, danger, or strength that it’s fun to see the habit upended in Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon, a fable built around a dragon who’s initially a lot less than she seems to be. Voiced by Awkwafina, the dragon Sisu — the last dragon in the fantasy land of Kumandra — is a typical Awkwafina character, chatty and energetic but not particularly masterful or confident. The hero of the story, Raya, has to take Sisu on a journey to reclaim her dragon family’s power, which initially puts them on a footing where the human warrior is the confident, capable, experienced one, and the dragon companion is the hapless, goofy tagalong — a dynamic that slowly reverses as Sisu rediscovers her heritage and history. It’s a sort of mismatched-buddy dynamic complemented by Sisu’s ebullient cheer and joie de vivre, also unusual characteristics for a screen dragon. —TR
From: The Dragon Prince
There are a number of prominent dragons in Netflix’s terrific fantasy series The Dragon Prince, and the clear intended fan favorite is the baby dragon Zym, who’s gone from early McGuffin to slowly developing character over the course of the show’s existing seasons. But while Zym is cute and enables a lot of plot, the Sun Dragon Sol Regem is a much more dominant character, in spite of being a comparatively small part of the series. An ancient dragon blinded by a scheming human mage, Sol Regem becomes a significant antagonist in the show’s third season, and an important representative of the old-guard thinking that keeps the young protagonists from realizing their idealistic notions of peace between nations and species. He’s a formidable force, the equivalent of a natural disaster with a grudge and an agenda, and the episode where the heroes face off against him makes for a particularly spectacular visual and verbal battle. —TR
From: Pete’s Dragon
David Lowery’s 2016 remake of the 1977 hybrid live-action/animated musical asks an important question: What is a dragon, if not a dog with wings? —Pete Volk
Look, Dragonheart is… I’m not proud of what Dragonheart does to me. It’s a movie about a knight (Dennis Quaid) making friends with a dragon (Sean Connery) and years ago that dragon gave half his actual heart (DRAGONHEART, DO YOU GET IT?) to save a little boy and then that little boy grew up to be a tyrant who cannot be killed unless the dragon is also killed but now he is the knight’s big grumpy CGI friend and he’s also the last dragon ever because the knight killed all the rest of them.
At least that’s my recollection from seeing Dragonheart exactly once when it came out in 1996. The story of Dragonheart isn’t important, though, nor is the 1996-era special effects that brought Connery’s Draco to life. What’s important is Randy Edelman’s orchestral score, which has made me fully tear up during the blocky CGI dragon’s death scene even when coming across it while channel surfing as a fully grown adult.
Like I said, I’m not proud. —Susana Polo
Reign of Fire’s dragons
From: Reign of Fire
What Reign of Fire lacks in any singularly notable dragon, it makes up for with its absolutely b-a-n-a-n-a-s concept: dragon-based postapocalypse.
You see, in Reign of Fire, dragons just came out of the ground one day and destroyed modern human civilization. It was later discovered that this was part of a cyclical pattern and that dragons killed the dinosaurs. I’ll say that again: In Reign of Fire, dragons killed the dinosaurs.
Christian Bale and Gerard Butler are best friends and the leaders of a band of humans who’ve managed to survive in a rural English castle — i.e., a building made of fireproof stone. Life is hard — from the dragon attacks — but stable, until, what else: The Americans show up. In the form of Matthew McConaughey as the tatted-up leader of a dragon-killing helicopter attack squad. McConaughey convinces Bale to go on one crazy mission that might change all of their lives: Travel across dragon-infested England to kill the only female dragon, who has been nesting in the heart of London all this time.
Reign of Fire is not a good movie. But it is an experience that I recommend wholeheartedly. —SP
The dragons of Pokémon
Dragon is a type of Pokémon. Charizard is not one of them (note: Mega Charizard X is), but he’s clearly a dragon! Look at those wings!
This one goes out to the actual Dragon-type Pokémon (shoutout to Dratini, Dragonair, and Dragonite), but also the ones that are clearly dragons but do not count as Dragon-type (Charizard and Gyarados, for instance). —PV
From: Transformers: The Last Knight
People who understandably dismissed the Transformers movies before the fifth entry missed one of the oddest Hollywood blockbusters in recent memory. The Last Knight opens with a face-melting medieval battle sequence that culminates in the first appearance of Dragonstorm, a three-headed dragon robot. Yes, you read that correctly. —PV
From: The Godzilla franchise
His title says it all: Ghidorah is King, bow to him. He’s got three heads, can shoot lightning out of his mouth(s), and is one of the only monsters dangerous enough to really take it to Godzilla. Also, his first movie (Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster) absolutely rules and is one of my favorites of the early Showa-era Godzilla films. —PV
King Ghidorah (meme variant)
From: The internet
This meme spawned after 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters (perhaps the only good thing to come from that movie), playing off director Michael Dougherty’s joke that one of Ghidorah’s three heads is a doofus named Kevin. I love Kevin very much. —PV
From: Monster Hunter
Paul W.S. Anderson’s adaptation of the video game franchise is a good old-fashioned big screen popcorn blockbuster, and one of the main attractions is the giant dragon Rathalos. Look at him roar! —PV
From: American Dragon: Jake Long
As a kid, it was really cool to me that Jake Long came from a biracial family, with a Chinese mom and a white dad. Jake transforms into a dragon and he’s in charge of helping save magical beings all around New York City (and occasionally saving regular people from magical beings). The art style randomly changed from season 1 to season 2, turning Jake from a buff dragon into a more serpentine slender one, but he still has my whole dang heart. The world-building in the show is super cool and there is a whole order of dragon-shifting humans, with dragons designated for each country. There are a lot of cool dragons in this show, but Jake Long is the coolest — just listen to that theme song! Also, he’s voiced by Dante Basco aka Prince Zuko, so what’s not to love? —Petrana Radulovic
Ran and Shaw
From: Avatar: The Last Airbender
These two ancient dragons were showcased in a very memorable Last Airbender episode — their one and only appearance on the show. I’ll avoid spoiling the reason why for any who still haven’t seen the show, but it’s a hypnotic and moving sequence. —PV
No dragon list would be complete with Mushu, the scene-stealing comedic force in Disney’s best movie (do not try to fight me on this). Mushu is wonderful for so many reasons — he, like Mulan herself, is an underdog desperate to prove his worth. But it’s Eddie Murphy’s fantastic performance that pushes this lizard — I mean dragon — into greatness, with a combination of tender earnestness and hysterical delivery that makes him a stand out. And if you disagree with me — dishonor on your whole family, dishonor on you, dishonor on your cow. —NC
From: Dragon Ball
It wouldn’t be a list of dragons without Shenron. Dragon Ball fans, consider your wish granted (and have a blast in Fortnite). —PV
From: One Piece
When Momonosuke was introduced in the Punk Hazard arc, I hated him. He was a cowardly little kid who did nothing but cry. To be fair, he went through some traumatic stuff, but he was a brat who was in constant need of saving. Yuck. However, after the Wano arc… sheeeesh. Minor spoilers, but his mastery of his Artificial Mythical fruit that allows him to turn into a dragon, and his character development places him on this list as one of the best dragons of all time. (Note that Kaido is not on this list. Me and my homies hate Kaido.) —Julia Lee
From: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid
Tohru is the ride-or-die dragon girlfriend that I wish I had. Not only is she a powerful dragon that is not to be messed with, but her loyalty and love for Kobayashi is unmatched (though some might say it gets obsessive, which I get). She’s also a housemaid, so, you know, she does all the cooking and cleaning, which is definitely something I can get on board with. —JL
Penelope and Hugo
From: Barbie as Rapunzel
Is this a deep cut? Depends on how familiar you are with direct-to-VHS masterpiece Barbie as Rapunzel (2002). For those who didn’t grow up constantly rewinding this VHS, Barbie as Rapunzel is basically the fairy tale of Rapunzel, but with some Barbie-fied twists. For instance, this Rapunzel is a talented artist who eventually uses a magic paintbrush to create portals.
Can I just say how much I love how the Barbie fairy-tale movies make the heroines strong and capable, with motivations and desires beyond finding a prince? Anyway, in this version of the fairy tale, Mother Gothel (played by none other than Anjelica Huston, y’all!) keeps two dragons: the formidable Hugo (David Kaye) and his plucky daughter Penelope (the one and only Cree Summer). While Hugo is the picture-perfect large dragon henchman, Penelope would rather goof around with Rapunzel than guard anything. The two clash, especially since Penelope sucks at doing basic dragon things like flying, but eventually Hugo grows to admire his daughter’s loyalty to her friend and how she stands up for the right thing. I just think they’re neat, OK. —PR