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.