From Smaug (who sat upon a fortune of gold and jewels in Erebor) to the engulfing epic fantasy Game of Thrones (which gave us Drogon in the land of Westeros), dragons have always been a phenomenon.
Fantasy is laden with mythical creatures that have endured cultural and societal changes and remain relevant in pop culture to this day, still leaving audiences entranced by their raw power and iconic looks.
Throughout cinema history, dragons have always held a unique place among characters, with each one bearing its own on-screen personality that shifts from incarnation to incarnation.
But like all movie characters, some dragons are simply more compelling and more iconic than others. Which movie dragon character is the best? Here are our favorite picks from throughout the years.
8. The Jabberwocky (Alice in Wonderland)
Though this fearsome creature isn’t on screen for very long, its presence is enough to make the Jabberwocky a cinematic legend.
The creature has actually appeared in different forms across different films, like 1977’s Jabberwocky starring Michael Palin. However, the evil dragon is best-known for its battle against Alice in 2010’s Alice in Wonderland (voiced by Sir Christopher Lee).
The Jabberwocky represents all that is ill in Underland, and the snarling dragon meets its end at the hands of Alice as she cuts off its head during the film’s climactic battle.
7. Dragon (Shrek)
Shrek’s story upended the tired clichés of fairy tales and gave a new spin to knights in shining armor, noble steeds, gingerbread men, and dragons.
When Shrek and Donkey infiltrate the abandoned castle, they look for the trapped Princess Fiona while evading the dragon who guards her. However, Donkey awakens the dragon—and talks his way into her heart.
In classic Shrek fashion, the traditional fire-breathing monster is spun on its head as Dragon falls in love with Donkey. Dragon has her own fun personality, yet still retains a fierce protective nature over those whom she loves, and that makes the character fresh and fun.
6. Elliot (Pete’s Dragon)
The tale of Pete and his dragon, Elliot, flew under the radars of two moviegoing generations. Sad to say, both the original animated feature and the remake of Pete’s Dragon were box office flops despite being met with warm critical evaluation.
Elliot isn’t just Pete’s woodland dragon—he’s Pete’s protector, Pete’s family, and Pete’s best friend. They live together in the woods after a car accident kills Pete’s parents.
Years later, when Pete is discovered and taken into care by the authorities, Elliot risks himself to go searching for him.
No buddy is more affable than Elliot. He’s the friend in the woods we all want, representing the connection we all strive to have with our friends.
5. Mushu (Mulan)
Disney know how to do dragons. That’s abundantly clear with Mulan’s Mushu, with whom Disney (and Eddie Murphy) struck gold.
When Mulan embarks on her quest to join the Imperial Army in place of her elderly father (who is conscripted in a war against the invading Huns), Mushu is sent to aid her. Mulan disguises herself as a boy because women can’t enlist—and Mushu must help her.
Mushu stays by her side no matter what. He’s there to help her remain undetected as a woman in the army. He pushes her forward when she wants to give up. And when all appears lost, he helps her to save China. Sure, he’s funny—but more importantly, he’s there with her to the end.
4. Haku (Spirited Away)
Haku may be the spirit of a river who spends most of his time in the form of a young boy, but he’s also a fearsome dragon that’s doomed to serve at the feet of Yubaba as her apprentice.
As Chihiro’s guardian and savior, Haku has to walk a fine line between Yubaba and Chihiro. A special force draws him to her for some reason that remains unknown until the end of the film.
Even though he might not be a dragon all throughout Spirited Away, Haku is a rare character who transcends the confines of his form. He is simultaneously a dragon and not a dragon, making his complex personality more intriguing with every viewing.
3. Sisu (Raya and the Last Dragon)
As the last remaining dragon, Sisu isn’t what many would expect her to be. She isn’t a creature of fearsome rage or fire-breathing malice. She’s actually a fast-talking, fun-loving bundle of curiosity.
When Raya’s world is shattered, she searches for Sisu in hopes that she can fix what’s broken and restore the world. During their adventure together, Raya and Sisu form a bond of sisterhood that links them together as they expose one another’s flaws and help each other heal.
Sisu is the perfect antithesis to how dragons are commonly seen in modern pop culture. She’s insecure, she’s water-based, and she sees the good in everybody no matter who they are.
2. Toothless (How to Train Your Dragon)
Toothless in How to Train Your Dragon is the friend we all need. He’s protective, kind, and stays with you to the end.
The journey shared by Hiccup and Toothless spans three films and showcases the incredible relationship between the pair, which starts as untrustworthy enemies to become inseparable brothers.
At his core, Toothless is a giant goof who’s not afraid of a fight. Like any self-respecting dragon, he’s certainly capable of destroying entire villages in short order—but he’s not a monster.
Indeed, Toothless is a companion who will always be loyal. He never surrenders Hiccup, instead saving him from certain death on numerous occasions. He’ll always be a lovable scamp at heart.
1. Smaug (The Hobbit)
Here’s a dragon who personifies the usual tropes and clichés of fantasy dragons—possibly because he inspired many of them.
Smaug is a devilish, fire-bathed, intelligent beast straight from the depths of hell. He’s smart, he’s nearly invincible, and he’ll kill anything that disturbs him. He’s the conqueror of Erebor (the dwarven kingdom under the Lonely Mountain) and he hoards a pile of endless treasure.
When the dwarves go to win their kingdom back from Smaug, they send in Bilbo Baggins to steal the Arkenstone. Unfortunately, Bilbo accidentally wakes the wicked dragon from his slumber.
Smaug and Bilbo have a wonderfully compelling back-and-forth encounter, with each verbally testing the other while Smaug demonstrates his might with every move of his impressive body.
Other dragons might be more lovable or fun to watch, but Smaug is the most impressive with a grandeur that makes him magnetic to witness.