13 Best Movies About Dragons, Ranked

Let's be real: Dragons are awesome! Since ancient Mesopotamians whispered about Tiamat and Marduk's red serpent servant, the legend of dragons thrived. For generations, these scaly creatures have induced fear and delight. Tolkien drew from these myths to bring the creature into the modern fantasy canon, with his childhood love of Fafnir, Siegfried's legendary foe, transformed into the prideful Smaug. Now the fantasy genre is almost synonymous with dragons. Of course, the '70s introduction of Dungeons & Dragons helped, too! Today, there's a resurgence of love for these big fellas -- starring in movies like "How to Train Your Dragon" and "Raya and the Last Dragon." 

Putting dragons on the big screen is a huge technical challenge. Not every movie's budget can commit to that feat. For decades, animation came to the rescue -- pitching price-conscious versions to younger and more accepting viewers. But after the release of "Jurassic Park," CGI and animatronics offered new ways to bring the creature to life. 

But which films showcase a true dance of dragons? Here are 13 movies to honor our titanic kings and queens of fantasy. Each entry on this list has something special to offer viewers. More importantly, every adventure encountered in these movies would fail without a dragon leading the way.

13. Pete's Dragon

There's nothing wrong about loving David Lowery's 2016 remake of "Pete's Dragon." But to get there, we need to honor the original. The 1977 film is a mixture of musical animation and live-action storytelling, borrowing a few tricks from "Mary Poppins" to nail its particular charms. Surprisingly, the movie is fairly melancholy. Pete (Sean Marshall) is an orphan child stuck with the kind of foster family that makes horrifying headlines. His invisible friend, Elliott (Charlie Callas), is dismissed as exactly that: unreal. But Elliott is as real as it gets! Throughout the film, he guides Pete to safety -- despite the interventions of a greedy caravan huckster and Pete's controlling foster parents.

Legendary animators Don Bluth and Ken Anderson based Elliott on the idea of the Chinese Long, not our familiar Smauggy drakes. Long are visually more serpentine than Western dragons, which comes out in Elliott's long tail. They have furry furnishings along their heads and back. Also, they're meant to bring good luck, not act as harbingers of terror. Elliott embodies his Eastern ancestors. "Pete's Dragon" is a sweet and charming movie that earns its happy ending. But if you don't care for musicals, the remake is just as sweet-natured without the singing fanfare. It's a great intro movie for kids, but as dragons go, Elliott is too sweet to fly higher up this ranking.

12. The Flight Of Dragons

"The Last Unicorn" isn't the only great oddity that Rankin-Bass debuted during their decades of stop-motion and animation fame. "The Flight of Dragons" is another classic entry. Partially based on the non-fiction style speculative book by Peter Dickinson of the same name, "The Flight of Dragons" also borrows the storyline of Gordon R. Dickson's "The Dragon and the George." Animated by "Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind" studio Topcraft, "The Flight of Dragons" explores the possibility of dragons, their magical necessity in a world changed by science, and our fears of change.

With James Earl Jones voicing the evil wizard Ommadon, the plot may be too tangly for most kids. But the ones that stick with it are going to love it to pieces. The book's author, Peter Dickinson, becomes our fictional protagonist. However, the dragons steal the show. The lovingly rendered animation blends cartoonish faces with coiling and threatening bodies. The result? Creatures here look like little else in animation, with their personalities visible in their behavior. Don't be put off by the wonky DVD cover. The film is far more beautiful movie than its cover art suggests. A fine example of classic and curious dragons, it's still too obscure to be higher ranked than this.

11. The NeverEnding Story

Falkor (voiced by Alan Oppenheimer) might not be present for chunks of "The NeverEnding Story," but he's the heart of the beloved fantasy film. After losing his companion horse, Artax, Atreyu (Noah Hathaway), is emotionally distraught. Luckily for him, he's soon rescued by the deus ex machina of the film that both he and his reader, Bastian, need to keep going. Falkor is a luck dragon, so letting others give up on their quest is not his nature.

Falkor's winding body has pearly white scales -- like the Long dragon he's inspired by -- and he's adorably furry. He's got a face like a Labrador Retriever puppy, with squeezable cheeks and floppy ears. His kindness and irrepressible hope kick the story back into gear: He even gives Bastian a silly but wonderful wish-fulfillment fantasy in the movie's final minutes. While the movie may show its age in a few places — and the novel's author, Michael Ende, was no fan of the result — Falkor's puppetry and sheer aura of kindness remain immortal. We'd still scratch that fuzzy chin! But nostalgia aside, Falkor is too strange of a dragon to carve out a bigger place for himself in these ranks.

10. Reign Of Fire

Though it was far from a critical or financial success, there's something worth discovering in "Reign of Fire." With a shockingly strong cast that includes Christian Bale, Matthew McConaughey, and Alexander Siddig, this post-apocalyptic thriller has a fascinating ecological take on dragons. (Let's not talk about that shoddy finale reveal.) Still, the rest of the film contains more than enough cheesy action and hammy drama to soften the landing.

Until then, the dragons are as they should be: terrifying threats of teeth and claw, with armored hides so thick they survive nuclear attacks. The CGI is top-notch for the time, making these bad boys feel like the human cast has a real reason to hunker down in old castles, turning classic movies into pantomimes for their children. The only hitch is a bizarre take on the trope of the load-bearing boss. These dragons — well, physically they're more like wyverns — have one male at the top of their world-sprawling empire. Kill it, and the world will be free from this napalm threat. The weakness of this plot device keeps these apex predators from climbing into the top six spot.

9. Monster Hunter: Legends Of The Guild

Don't bother to acknowledge the live-action movie. Fans of the game franchise — including me — have a better suggestion. Netflix has an animated CGI short film that canonically takes place before the "Monster Hunter World events." In "Monster Hunter: Legends of the Guild," Aiden, a future Ace Hunter, uses the time aboard a ship to retell the story of his first big hunt in his youth.

"Monster Hunter" beasts are frequently subspecies of wyverns, with the biggest and deadliest threats taxonomically categorized as Elder Dragons. "Legends of the Guild" showcases both kinds, introducing neophytes to the dinosaur-style ice wyvern Velocidrome and the terror of the raging pickle-like wyvern Deviljho. Game fans know this giant-chinned green bastard will ruin any hunter's day -- though it's not too bad for our heroes here. But the centerpiece of the film is the Lunastra: This feminine Elder Dragon has some physical elements of the manticore, but it also wields some of a typical dragon's tools like fire breath. Beautiful and deadly, you'll wonder why gamers dare hunt these bad girls. Her partner, the Teostra, is much easier to deal with, though! A great introduction to the franchise, "Monster Hunter" still remains pretty niche -- giving them a lower place here.

8. Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings

The Great Protector is only seen during the final act of "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings." Still, her presence and power set the climax into motion. This majestic Long is the final guardian against the invasion of the eldritch Dweller-in-Darkness. She's also been keeping the village of Ta Lo a secret from the world for ages. Capable of using and granting the gifts of wind and water, her abilities are foreshadowed earlier when Shang-Chi's mother (Fala Chen) defends the village from Wenwu (Tony Leung) in those beautiful wuxia fights.

Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) rides along The Great Protector's back amidst the film's final battle. Her design is beautiful. The dragon's pearly-white scales and red fur highlight her supernatural role as a bringer of good fortune. She coils through sky and sea without effort. Designed by Weta, the Protector brings to life a sacred and stunning creature to the big screen. "Shang-Chi" is already one of the best Marvel movies to date, and its heroic dragon is a large reason why. Give her a spin-off anime movie, and we'll take her into the top four. There's just too little of her to rank her higher.

7. Sleeping Beauty & Maleficent

"Sleeping Beauty" and "Maleficent" diverge on how their iconic dragon takes flight. This green-fire terror is a landmark for kids looking to discover their first scary-but-awesome legend brought to life. In "Sleeping Beauty," the Black Dragon is Maleficent herself, shapeshifting in order to torment Prince Phillip as he's trying to rescue Aurora. The dragon's unique aesthetic came from the stylized work of artist Eyvind Earle. In "Maleficent," Angelina Jolie's beautiful and rightfully furious fae queen delegates the ability to her raven companion, Diaval (Sam Riley). While not as stylized as his predecessor, the impact is still a fiery treat.

The Black Dragon is one of Disney's best villainous designs — even if it is treated more heroically in the live-action version. Its evil comes through in its secondary color palette, with eerie neon greens and purple highlights. Maleficent's crown of horns inspires its head shape. In "Sleeping Beauty," its angular form is incredibly intimidating for small children. All this makes the Black Dragon one of the species' best and most classic representatives, worthy of appearing in spin-off media like "Kingdom Hearts" and inspiring the look of one of the houses in "Twisted Wonderland." But with a small role on-screen comes a lower ranking. Sorry, Maleficent!

6. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

Despite the moniker, a "Dungeons & Dragons" scenario doesn't require either to count as a great campaign. But a movie meant to attract a wide audience has to weigh the dice in its favor. "Honor Among Thieves" highlights both tabletop icons. Alongside an arena game that looks exactly like a classic dungeon grid, there's one obligatory dragon earlier in the film. Themberchaud is the chonkiest big boy a party of adventurers could encounter — but he's not just a joke to them, either.

Themberchaud, for all his squishy, murdery cuteness, is a Red Dragon. That's top-shelf bad news in a D&D campaign, and it's a hint of his true power that not even the Paladin Xenk leaves a mark on him. His appearance, capability, and name are all long-time D&D canon. He first appeared in a Drizzt-themed Underdark supplement in 1999. His CGI animation succeeds in giving him real presence, and his chaotic grace makes it easy for us to laugh as our heroes realize the big fella is as fast and deadly as his leaner kin. Not just a fat joke — thank goodness — Themberchaud is a great ambassador for his kind. Maybe not every campaign needs to be serious, but you still have to work together as a team to survive its dangers. Unfortunately, for the race to be Top Drake, Themberchaud is the only featured member of his species here. We need dragons, plural, from a "Dungeons & Dragons" movie.

5. The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

Whether you're a fan of "The Hobbit" trilogy or not, the effort Weta Digital and actor Benedict Cumberbatch put into bringing Tolkien's homage to the myths of his youth to life deserves recognition. Smaug embodies desolation; his greed leads him to overtake a Dwarven kingdom. His wrath savages nearby settlements. While the movies lose some of Tolkien's nuance — the "dragon-sickness" isn't just greed, but hoarding of the past, too — his cruelties highlight the grim changes Thorin goes through in the third film.

Our first glimpse of Smaug is at the end of the first film, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." This choice sets the tone for the creature we meet in the second film. Smaug is vain and prideful, but he's also cunning and tuned into defending his horde. He may be one of the most intelligent adversaries in Middle-Earth, short of Sauron. His flaws, and a single loose belly scale, are the only ways to overcome him. He's as dragony as dragons can get, too -- though Cumberbatch's crawling performance earned him winged wyvern forearms instead of the "classic" four legs and separate wing design. Cumberbatch's Smaug is the best thing about the "Hobbit" trilogy, and his longtime co-actor Martin Freeman as Bilbo is the second. Humbled by an unnecessary stretch into a trilogy, Smaug is hobbled to fifth -- despite being one of fantasy's biggest lizards.

4. Dragonheart

Maybe it's the nostalgia talking, but it's hard to surpass "Dragonheart" as an example of what fantasy-addled kids want in a movie. Draco (Sean Connery) is as pure a dragon as you can imagine: four-legged, winged, clawed, bedecked with horns, and adorably charming. His human companion, Bowen (Dennis Quaid), is a proper Arthurian knight: Both are tied up in the fate of the requisite evil king, Einon (David Thewlis).

Yes, the plot of "Dragonheart" is messy. In places, character motivations are downright nonsensical. But none of this is what we're here for, anyway. Post-"Jurassic Park" CGI and cutting-edge animatronics from ILM made Draco into something '90s kids could happily stare at for hours. Unfortunately, there is a slew of crappy straight-to-DVD sequels that are still trying to recapture his magic. Forget about them. Grab a can of cheese balls and your favorite afghan. Draco is so lovable that an over-the-top film can't stop him from soaring into our hearts. A weak plot and too many spin-offs keep him in fourth place, but it's a solid fourth!

3. How To Train Your Dragon

Today, Toothless is the soulmate of black cats everywhere. That nigh-untamable but companionable felid charm is partially why he still has our imaginations in a death grip. A type of rare dragon called a Night Fury, the theme of his story is that dragons aren't "trained" so much as befriended. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) has to learn this the hard way at first. But what he gains from his goofy new companion reshapes his life and his Viking village for the better.

"How to Train Your Dragon" offers a cornucopia of delightful designs. Most of these dragon looks are far beyond the cute sketches from Cressida Cowell's original book series. From the puppyish rock dragon Gronckles to the venomous Deadly Nadders, there's a dragon type for almost everyone to love. However, the adorable Night Fury ranks above them all. Toothless is the franchise's mascot, with his silly smile and lightning-quick zoom through the skies. His first flight with Hiccup is pure magic, an experience we wish we could share. Dreams will have to be close enough. Why only third place? If you've seen the final movie, you know why. Hiccup has good reasoning, but we still want dragons in our world, dammit.

2. Spirited Away

The amnesiac Haku is the deuteragonist in Chihiro's story. His redemption as a river dragon is tied to her fate. "Spirited Away" is about a lot of things, including Chihiro's growth, a parent's fears, and, Haku's identity. The answer isn't just that he's a dragon god. Part of his journey is letting go of his desire to usurp Yubaba's power.

For much of the movie, Haku is a thief in service to the witchy mistress of a yokai bathhouse. She's locked away his true name, as she did to Chihiro, but that doesn't stop him from feeling instinctually protective towards the new human arrival. Deep inside of him is a memory of her. Chihiro's sudden realization of what he is frees him to take his true self. He's beautiful with his white scales and seafoam green fur -- gleaming as pure as his river once was. There's a lot of melancholy in his freedom — Haku now knows who he is, but his river, that piece of his self, is long gone. That lament to a damaged environment is classic Ghibli. It's only fitting that this gorgeous dragon reminds us of the importance of keeping nature preserved. Haku takes a coveted second place because Hayao Miyazaki imbued so much meaning into who this river god is.

1. Dragonslayer

Hands down, Vermithrax Pejorative is one of the most badass and evil-sounding names outside of the Sith Lords of "Star Wars." She's the antagonist of "Dragonslayer," a cult movie currently earning its rightful redemption with a remastered rerelease that features commentary by one of the film's biggest long-time defenders, Guillermo Del Toro. No, its title doesn't leave much to question: There's a big bad dragon on the loose, and it's gotta go.

Vermithrax is a Phil Tippett special, designed with the help of David Bunnett. The team realized the dragon by using a variety of animatronics and stop-motion puppetry. Her biggest puppet has wings nine meters wide, and there's a separate head full of intricate tricks to give this dragon queen a slew of active emotions. She even has smaller models to replicate running. The final job of compositing these actions into the movie holds up as well — or better — than Superman's first flights in 1978. There's no question about the threat she poses to would-be slayer Galen (Peter MacNicol). There's also no question about the threat she poses to our nightmares. All hail the Queen of Dragons!

Read this next: 10 Shows That House Of The Dragon Fans Should Check Out Next

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