Dragons are in the news again! The Game of Thrones spin-off/prequel House of the Dragon has officially aired. And whether or not you are a devotee of the House Targaryen, you have to admit that the series is at least a significant contribution toward the field of dragon-forward entertainment. Incidentally, “House of the Dragon” is also what you might have called my actual house this past week, since I spent every waking moment studiously immersed in the field of dragon-forward entertainment to bring you this ranked list of the 50 best dragons in movies, TV, and books. And a few video games. And music. I’m calling this list an assembly of “fictional dragons” to include all these media, not to imply that I left any dragons off this list for being real. Dragons are not real.
Now, it is often the case with fictional dragons that they eventually wind up adapted, so we’re ranking the ORIGINAL appearances of those dragons. So, when I mention the Game of Thrones dragons, I’ll be referring to their original appearance in the books. If an adaptation does the original character any justice or if it does the opposite, it will be noted, but it won’t affect the overall score of that dragon.
If there are numerous dragons in a specific text, they will be evaluated on their own if they are distinct enough. If they are just a group of dragons who basically act the same, they will share a listing. The exception to this is two-headed dragons with a different personality per head. They will be evaluated in the same listing, due to sharing the same body. Also, a person who is able to turn into a dragon is also eligible for this list.
You know who’s not eligible? Sea monsters. I’m sorry… I had to draw the line somewhere. And creatures which are technically “dinosaurs,” like Yoshi from Super Mario Bros., don’t count either. I’m sorry!!!
What are the criteria I’m using to rank these dragons? This is a good question, because unlike the other rankings we do about representations of specific characters or entries in a certain genre, we’re not evaluating the efficacy of embodying specific characteristics. This is kind of a list of who’s a cooler dragon. So, bad dragons and good dragons are intermingled. Basically, the more interesting the dragon (hero or adversary), the higher the dragon ranks.
Also, the dragons mentioned have to be actual characters. Essayistic or poetic reflections such as al-Masudi’s “Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems” or Li Shizhen’s essays, or Isidore of Seville’s Etymologies, or The Classic of Mountains and Seas/Shan Hai Jing, which feature meditations on the natures of dragons, are not eligible.
50. Devon and Cornwall, Quest for Camelot
In this Warner Brothers animated film about a Medieval journey to find Excalibur, Devon and Cornwall are (is?) a two-headed dragon with heads voiced (respectively) by Eric Idle and Don Rickles. Devon is snobby and lean, Cornwall (or “Cornie”) is stout and uncouth, and together they are (in Devon’s terms), “the reason cousins shouldn’t marry.” So, clearly this movie is the wrong kind of “family friendly.”
49. Babe the Dragon, Luck
Jane Fonda voices Babe the Dragon, the CEO of the Land of Luck, in that new movie Luck that (if you live in NYC) you have seen advertised on the side of every bus station all summer long. A corporate dragon kind of makes sense as a modern update to a species known for cupidity and rapaciousness, but still, it’s a smidge depressing.
48. Ord, Cassie, and Zak and Wheezy, Dragon Tails
There wasn’t a kid who watched PBS in the year 2000 who didn’t see an episode or two of Dragon Tails. I might have been too old to watch it, but I didn’t have cable and sometimes it was just on. In the words of the theme song, Ord is “not so brave of heart,” and this gets him into trouble sometimes. He’s really working on himself, so that’s great, but we do need a little more consistency in that department. Another odd-couple/two-headed dragon pair, Zak and Wheezy, are a neurotic brother and flamboyant sister who forget how to work together in like every episode. Cassie is very smart but also struggles with shyness and getting people to listen to her strategies. Talk about being a woman in the workplace!
47. Eustace Scrubb, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
It seems that every C.S. Lewis novel has to prominently feature a bratty kid who learns a lesson, and the Voyage of The Dawn Treader is no exception. Eustace Scrubb is a whiny, spoiled, greedy boy who finds himself transformed into a dragon because of the selfishness in his heart. For some reason, being a dragon teaches him how to be helpful and loyal (which is not the effect it would have on me, I would just scream constantly), and eventually Aslan changes him back. Because he’s such a pill, I’m ranking him down here even though the whole circumstance is objectively a very cruel punishment to bring upon a literal child.
46. The Dragon, Shrek
Remember how in Shrek, the dragon guarding Princess Fiona’s tower is actually just a lonely lady who develops feelings for Eddie Murphy’s Donkey?
45. Maur, The Hero and the Crown
Robin McKinley’s 1984 Newbury-Award-winning novel tells of a young girl named Aerin Firehair who grows into a fierce and powerful queen, after she fights to save the people of her homeland, Damar… especially after the last of the dragons that once ravaged the land returns to do it again. That dragon is Maur and she almost kills Aerin in their battle.
44. Firedrake, Dragon Rider
Cornelia Funke wrote Inkheart and The Thief Lord, two books that absolutely everyone my age read in seventh grade, but she also wrote Dragon Rider, which was written for younger audiences and published later on but which I read in high school anyway. Firedrake doesn’t need to eat because he gets all his strength from moonlight (which, according to the book, is why dragons fly at night). Extra points for fuel-efficiency to Firedrake, the Prius of Dragons!
43. Spyro, Spyro the Dragon
I’ve never played the Spyro PlayStation games (I’ve… never played *a* PlayStation game), but I remember seeing large displays of them when I’d walk through Toys R Us as a child. Spyro is a cute little guy, an animated purple dragon with the confident, assertive air of my neighbor’s Pomeranian. The internet tells me that he’s mischievous and can fly for short distances. He is friends with a dragonfly. That seems nice.
42. Kazul, Dealing with Dragons
Patricia C. Wrede’s 1990 novel tells of the Princess Cimorene who, bored of court life and frustrated that she can’t learn cool stuff like Latin and fencing, encounters a group of dragons and volunteers to pretend to be their “captive” princess. This is a very smart idea! Kazul is her dragon friend who goes along with the plot, which is how you KNOW she’s cool. If your friend needs to fake being captured by a dragon in order to take a break from her life, you had better help her out. Ride or die.
41. Norberta, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Remember in the first Harry Potter how Hagrid smuggles over a Norwegian Ridgeback dragon egg or something? Well, that little dragon’s name is Norbert! Later we find out that Norbert is a girl, so she is renamed Norberta. I don’t remember the significance of this scene.
40. The Dragon, The Pagemaster
The Pagemaster is a bold cinematic allegory about the importance of the humanities. Ten-year-old Richard Tyler (Macaulay Culkin) cites statistics as an excuse to keep himself from doing things he does not want to do, but during a rainstorm he takes shelter in a library, where the stories come alive and lead him on an extraordinary literary adventure. He has to fight a dragon, too—a dragon with (get this) books in his belly. Like, he’s devoured them. I feel ya, buddy!
39. Shenron, Dragon Ball
In the manga/anime saga Dragon Ball, Shenron will grant you a wish if you assemble all the seven dragon balls. That’s the thing about dragons—they always put you to work even when they want to help you out!
38. Dragonite, Pokémon
Maybe you thought that if I were to include any Pokémon characters, Charizard was going to be the dragon that would make it on this list, because obviously he is a dragon, go look him up. Dragon. Yeah, that’s what I thought, too! But apparently he’s not. He’s a “fire-type” Pokémon, not a dragon, which is insane to me. But anyway, there’s another dragon Pokémon who’s technically a dragon, and it’s this little guy. (He’s actually pretty big.)
37. Ramoth, The Dragonriders of Pern
Anne McCaffrey began the Dragonriders of Pern series in 1967, when she published two novellas that would later be combined into the novel Dragonflight. This series has everything: outer space, psychic abilities, dragons. There aren’t very many dragons left in this world, but our heroine Lessa forms a psychic bond with Ramoth the dragon so that she might ride her. Which is what I’d do.
36. Sisu, Raya and the Last Dragon
Awkwafina voices the eponymous dragon in this sweet animated Disney movie. She is the last of all her magical siblings, after the rest of them turned to stone as part of a brave attempt to save the people of the land Kumandra. For the time being, she holds all her siblings’ powers. Even though she is an imposing, powerful being, she just wants to hang, which is a very important quality. She’s bubbly, goofy, loves snacks… everything you’d want in a dragon friend.
35. Errol, Guards! Guards!
Terry Pratchett’s 1989 novel Guards! Guards! is eighth in his Discworld series, and it features an adorable, misfit swamp dragon. He’s got enormous eyebrows, tiny wings, a long nose, and he’s sick all the time and can’t fly. That is, until he “reorganises his digestive system to form a supersonic propulsion system” (in the words of Wikipedia). And then, you know, he can fly. Also, what?
34. Blue-Eyes White Dragon, Yu-Gi-Oh
A fun thing is that until you hit the word “dragon,” this could really just be a description of me. Also, like me, it is an extremely powerful lady monster spirit.
33. Draco, Dragonheart
Sean Connery voices Draco the wisecracking dragon in the 1996 fantasy movie Dragonheart. He is a very solid guy. He gives half of his heart to a boy, Prince Enion, who is mortally wounded (hence the title). In exchange, he makes Enion promise to be a benevolent ruler… but, psych, turns out, Enion is the worst. Bowen (Dennis Quaid), his former tutor, thinks that the dragonheart corrupted Enion and vows to kill all the dragons, but then stumbles on Draco (without knowing he’s the dragon who gave Enion his heart) and they become friends and wind up on a path to bring Enion to justice. Draco is one of the few martyr dragons on this list—not only does he have to deal with pretty terrible persecution, but he also winds up willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good several times.
32. The Hungarian Horntail, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
The other contestants in the Dragon-fighting portion of the Triwizard Tournament have to fight a Chinese Fireball, a Welsh Green, and a Swedish Short-Snout, but Harry has to fight the most terrifying one of all, a Hungarian Horntail, in this inter-collegiate athletic event that is far too dangerous for children.
31. Vermithrax Pejorative, Dragonslayer
Dragonslayer is a cult movie from 1981 and you should watch it. Peter MacNicol from VEEP plays a young wizard who has to slay a giant, 400-year old dragon named Vermithrax Pejorative that keeps eating girls in the village.
30. King Ghidorah, Ghidorah
No dragon roundup would be complete without a mention of King Ghidorah, Godzilla’s nemesis! He’s a three-headed, two-legged dragon with no arms, and based on that description, you might think he’d fall over a lot, but he doesn’t.
29. The Dragon, True and wonderfull; a discourse relating a strange and monstrous serpent, or dragon, lately discovered and yet living to the great annoyance and divers slaughters both men and cattel
I love 17th-century pamphlet titles. John Trundle, one of the most popular (and possibly most tabloid-y) publishers of the Stuart era, published this humorous account of a dragon terrorizing Sussex in 1614. Trundle’s dragon is nine feet and covered in black-scales and trails a line of “gluttonous and slimy matter” behind it, which, yeah, would cause me great annoyance too.
28. Ancalagon the Black, The Silmarillion
Ancalagon the Black, simply known as “The Black,” is an enormous, terrible dragon “as tall as a mountain”—bred by Morgoth to lead his legion of dragons in the first age of Middle Earth. When he is defeated by Eärendil, after a night-long battle in the sky, he is “hurled” from the sky and smashes into the volcanoes of Tharangorodrim.
27. Maleficent, Sleeping Beauty
The evil queen Maleficent’s transformation into an enormous fire-breaking dragon is one of the most memorable moments in the Disney canon—an intimidating last-ditch effort to keep Prince Philip from infiltrating the castle where Aurora lays sleeping. I know it’s not the point, but i would really like it if someone with this maniacal “keep out” energy would guard me when I’m sleeping.
26. Lockheed, X-Men
Another entry in the sub-category of “space dragon” (of which there are a surprising many!) is Lockheed, the tiny portable dragon from X-Men. Also known by the alias Frumious Bandersnatch (a la the Jabberwock), Lockheed is found by Kitty Pryde on Sleazeworld and soon heads to Earth with her.
25. Puff the Magic Dragon, “Puff the Magic Dragon”
I don’t know about you, but I can’t listen to Peter, Paul, and Mary’s song “Puff the Magic Dragon” without bawling. A friendly rascal of a dragon loved by the little boy Jackie Paper, he frolics in the autumn mist in a magic land called Honah Lee, until the day Jackie Paper comes no more and Puff retreats sadly into his cave. Excuse me while I WEEP.
24. Fido, “The Last of the Dragons”
If you’re thinking that the name of this dragon, from Edith Nesbit’s classic 1925 short story, makes the dragon sound a bit like a dog, you’re thinking correctly. This is a tame, humble dragon. She is literally compared to a dog a lot. She just wants people to care about her, so she can love them in return. She’s a rescue dragon! This story is a Happy Tail!
23. Glaurung, The Silmarillion
J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion (1977) is the cornerstone of his Legendarium—edited by his son Christopher and published after his death. In it, we learn of Glaurung, the first dragon, the father of all the dragons in Middle-Earth, bred by Morgoth in the iron prison of Angband.
22. The Dragon, My Father’s Dragon
The phrase “my father’s dragon” is so sentimental, it makes me want to cry. The 1948 novel by Ruth Stiles Gannett (which led to two sequels, Elmer and the Dragon and The Dragons of Blueland) is about a little boy named Elmer Elevator who travels to a magical land to find a baby dragon. I never read these books, although I never forgot the gorgeous cover-art after seeing them in the library.
21. Viserion, Rhaegal, and Drogon: Song of Ice and Fire series
Personally, I feel like Queen Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons are more “ferocious window dressing” than actual characters themselves, but they get points for being iconic as hell.
20. The Dragon, Legenda aurea
This 13th-century text by Jacobus de Voragine tells the often-repeated story of St. George slaying the dragon. Only in this version, the slaying takes place in Libya and not England. So, you know what that’s all about.
19. Villentretenmerth, Sword of Destiny (Tales of The Witcher)
Villentretenmerth, one of only two dragons left, has a very neat skill. He’s able to transform his shape into basically anything, which is really convenient for traveling under the radar. Dragons aren’t dangerous to humans; humans are dangerous to dragons. And fortunately, the human he meets is Geralt, the Witcher, who doesn’t kill dragons as a rule, and I think we can all agree “not wanting to kill the other guy” is a solid foundation for a healthy friendship.
18. Errour, “The Faerie Queen”
Dragons are obviously wildly allegorical, and in Anglo-Christian tradition, they most often represent the Devil. In Edmund Spencer’s long poem “the Faerie Queen,” which was a thinly-veiled devotion to Queen Elizabeth I, the dragon represents anti-Elizabethan and anti-Anglican sentiment. When the knight Redcrosse chokes the dragon, she vomits out “bookes and papers,” which represent the Catholic Church’s smear campaign against the Church of England.
17. Saphira, Eragon
I was one of the only kids in middle school who didn’t read the Eragon books, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn a lot about Saphira, the lovely dragon hatched by the teenager Eragon Shadeslayer, who stumbles upon her egg one day and picks it up.
16. The Dragon, The Book of Kings
Shahnameh’s epic poem about the heroes of the early Persian empire, published in 1010 CE, features a deadly dragon who is slain by the hero Rostam (with help from his horse Rakhsh). No elephant ever escaped this dragon, the poem says. Even demons feared it. But Rostam killed it! Way to go, Rostam!
15. Figment, “Journey Into Imagination”
I really, really thought that Figment’s first appearance had to be on Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color or something like that. But actually, Figment was created specifically as the ambassador to Walt Disney World’s EPCOT, making his debut in the “Journey Into Imagination” dark ride in 1983, a year after the park’s opening. Literally supposed to represent the creative powers of the human mind, as he is as “figment” of one’s imagination, Figment encourages children to think outside the box.
14. The Reluctant Dragon, “The Reluctant Dragon”
The Ferdinand the Bull of dragons, this guy originated in Kenneth Grahame’s 1898 short story before being adapted into a fascinating Disney film in 1941 (part documentary-tour of the new Burbank studio, part animated romp, part live-action technicolor extravaganza, part animation tutorial… and released during that year’s animators’ strike). But the story itself tells of a genteel, intellectual dragon with the soul of a poet who befriends a young boy before being discovered by the fearful, overzealous townsfolk.
13. Elliott, Pete’s Dragon
The 1971 Disney musical Pete’s Dragon is technically based on a short story called “Pete’s Dragon and the USA (Forever After)” by Seton I. Miller and S. S. Field, but since it was never published, I’m using the film as my primary source! The film opens kind of in medias res, with a runaway orphan named Pete already friends with the dragon Elliott, a sweet, doofy, clumsy fella who can turn invisible whenever he wants (if you think this will cause trouble, you are right). As with most stories about dragons, it’s a parable about being too quick to persecute and scapegoat things we do not understand.
12. Fáfnir, Volsunga Saga
This late-13th-century Icelandic saga tells of the dwarf Fáfnir, who grows greedy and kills his brother to hoard the gold they discover (that’s a long story). Transformed into a dragon because of his avarice, he only grows more protective of his stash and terrorizes the nearby townsfolk. Subsequently, he is slain by Sigurd. Let that be a lesson to us all.
11. The Dragon King, “The Tale of Tawara Tōda”/”My Lord Bag of Rice”
In the “The Tale of Tawara Tōda,” which dates to Japan’s Edo period, a serpent-dragon King asks the help of the hero Fujiwara no Hidesato (who was also known as My Lord Bag of Rice) to defeat a giant centipede. Props to this dragon for having the humility to ask for help, and also for being so relatable re: the terrors of big centipedes.
10. The Jabberwock, Through the Looking Glass
Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwock features in a long nonsense poem “The Jabberwocky” embedded in his 1871 novel Through the Looking-Glass. It lightly mocks (in both content and form) the Medieval verse tradition of epics of dragon-slaying. The Jabberwock is a “Frumious Bandersnatch” with “eyes of flame.”
10. Tiamat, Dungeons & Dragons
Tiamat is a terrifying, five-headed dragon goddess with a very impressive resume: Queen of Evil Dragons, Queen of Chaos, Nemesis of the Gods, the ArchDevil, etc.
9. Toothless, How to Train your Dragon
Cressida Cowell’s How to Train Your Dragon series is a delightful addition to the canon of dragon stories… as is Toothless, the gentle and mischievous best friend of our protagonist, young Viking Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third. Toothless is the last of the Night Fury species, but don’t let that name fool you. He’s a sweet boy who loves his friend. (Extra points to this one for having an adorable movie adaptation with very original character design).
8. Mushu, Mulan
Remember, people: Mushu is a dragon, not a lizard (he doesn’t do that tongue thing)! And despite being small and not really having any powers and failing to wake/destroying the Great Stone Dragon, he is an excellent guardian! Don’t let the ancestors tell you otherwise!
7. Yinglong, Chu Ci/The Songs of Chu
The giant poem Chu Ci, which dates to the 3rd–2nd centuries BCE, tells of Yinglong, the dragon deity who is involved in controlling the rainfall and water. Also, Yinglong lives on vibrantly in mythology after this record!
6. Zhulong, The Classic of Mountains and Seas
In Chinese mythology, Zhulong is the dragon-god who created day and night and wind. He has a serpent’s body and a human face, and stories about him date back to the 3rd century BCE–1st century CE.
5. The Dragon, Beowulf
The primary villains of Beowulf are Grendel and Grendel’s mother, but our hero is ultimately felled by a dragon. Toward the end of the epic, Beowulf encounters an enormous, wicked, greedy dragon guarding treasure. In Old English, the dragon is called both a “draca” and a “wyrm.” Beowulf does kill the dragon, but is wounded too severely and later dies. I’m no Medievalist, but I am going to say that this dragon is the most important one in the Western canon.
4. Vrtra, Rig Veda
The Sanskrit collection known as the Rig Veda, which dates to between 1500 and 1200 BCE, contains the oldest known story of a man fighting a dragon, according to scholar Scott G. Bruce. Indra slays the dragon Vrtra, who represents drought; he has hoarded all the world’s waters in a mountain. Bruce notes that since the Sanskrit refers to Vrtra as being a “shoulderless” dragon (and given his obsession with water), he might be more of a sea monster. But because he dwells in the Mountains, and because we technically don’t know, I’m keeping Vrtra on this list.
3. Falkor, The Never-Ending Story
I watched The Never-Ending Story when I was in 6th grade science class, at the very end of the year as a reward for hard work. It was confusing! But the image of Falkor, the white-labrador-looking flying dragon carrying our hero on his back, is indelible in my memory (as I’m sure it is for literally everyone).
2. Haku, Spirited Away
Nigihayami Kohakunushi (or as he is known, Haku), is an extremely important character in Spirited Away. A stern, sometimes unserious, but loving dragon, he takes the form of a little boy for part of the movie, helping our heroine Chihiro on her wild and often dark adventure.
1. Smaug, The Hobbit
Look, I know he’s a giant, covetous monster, slithering around his giant pile of stolen gold, but the red-gold dragon Smaug (even in his desolation) is an extraordinary villain. He is “a most specially greedy, strong and wicked worm,” a perfect foil to the humble, rag-tag adventurers in The Hobbit, while also paying tribute to a rich history of Anglo-Saxon dragon lore. How does Smaug operate? He says it himself: “I kill where I wish and none dare resist. I laid low the warriors of old and their like is not in the world today. Then I was but young and tender. Now I am old and strong…” Wow.
1. Kalessin from The Farthest Shore
Kalessin from Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Farthest Shore is one of the most beloved dragons in all of literature. Known simply as “the Eldest” and without a known gender, the iron-colored Kalessin is a wise and formidable creature. ALL HAIL.