Looking for a fiery fantasy flick to fulfill your craving for magic? Look no further: Here be dragons. Hollywood understands the big-screen potential of dragons, be they fearsome fire-breathers or friendly companions eager to give humans a ride. Dragons are the focus of quite a few feature films, but who wants to sift through an endless supply of B movies (looking at you, Dragon Wars) to find the real winners? Below are nine worthwhile movies, spanning four decades of releases, that either feature a notable dragon, or focus primarily on a significant relationship between humans and dragons. Dracarys!
Leave it to the minds behind Monty Python to bring us one of the wildest and weirdest dragon stories ever put to film. Based on Lewis Carroll’s famous “Jabberwocky” poem and directed and co-written by genre genius Terry Gilliam, Jabberwocky is a bawdy and absurdist take on the classic dragon story. A peasant boy fights a dragon and wins a way out of poverty and drudgery and into the heart of a princess. Tale as old as time, right? But instead of a fearsome beast, the movie’s titular Jabberwocky is just a guy in a dragon suit, wires and all. Charming and bizarre, Jabberwocky is a great choice for when you want a dragon movie that takes you off the beaten path, and shuns the frumious Bandersnatch.
The Flight of Dragons (1982)
This animated feature is a great pick for when you want your dragons with a side of nostalgia. The unlikely protagonist is Peter Dickinson (John Ritter), a board game designer/scientist sucked into a mystical kingdom hidden from the mundane, modern world. When Peter’s mind is magically melded with the body of the dragon Gorbash, he must rely on logic and the teachings of more experienced dragons to survive. The Flight of Dragons might be a little dated and overly simplistic for adult viewers, but its message—that science and magic aren’t mutually exclusive—knows no age-limit.
The NeverEnding Story (1984)
This haunting, trippy movie might be a little more focused on the journey of its human protagonists than on the character of Falkor the Dragon, but I couldn’t not give a shout-out to one of the most unique depictions of a dragon in a movie. Falkor the luckdragon proves to be Atreyu’s greatest ally, and his dog-like looks, furry body, and shimmery scales make him pretty darn adorable, too. In a film that can be quite dark by children’s fare standards, Falkor shines a light and saves the day more than once.
This medieval-set movie couldn’t be more wonderfully early ’90s. Dennis Quaid stars as Bowen the dragonslayer, who meets his match in Draco the Dragon (Sean Connery). Draco shares half his heart with the kingdom’s ruler, who we soon learn is the movie’s real monster. Draco and Bowen form a reluctant partnership at first, but the bond that eventually develops between the two is the emotional core of the film. Get your tissues ready if you’re settling in for a movie night with DragonHeart—this story is surprisingly tender.
Dragons are often depicted as enormous monsters, but Mulan’s tiny dragon companion Mushu, voiced by Eddie Murphy, is better at cracking wise than breathing fire. After failing to do his duty and protect one of Mulan’s ancestors, Mushu is striving for redemption, and he’s not about to let Mulan fail her mission. Interestingly, Mushu and Mulan are one of the very few examples of movie friendships between a girl and a dragon. Disney has a live-action remake of Mulan in the works right now, and it will definitely be interesting to see how their dynamic is explored (assuming Mushu even makes an appearance).
Reign of Fire (2002)
Tired of dragon tales set in medieval ages or fantasy lands? How about a dystopian future where humanity has been decimated by dragons? What if I told you that Matthew “Alright, Alright” McConaughey and Christian Bale play leaders of different factions trying to save what’s left of the world from fiery destruction, all the while butting their handsome heads? I don’t know about you, but sign me up! Yes, Reign of Fire is a little light on plot, and more “die, dragons, die!” than any other feature on this list, but sometimes I just need an action-packed, dragon-filled adventure. Reign of Fire delivers that in spades.
How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
This Dreamworks feature managed to capture hearts and imaginations by taking the classic “dragon meets boy” story to another level. Assisted by a terrific cast of voice actors including America Ferrera, Jay Baruchel, and Craig Ferguson, this story of a Viking village plagued by dragon attacks is pretty damn compelling. Toothless the dragon will steal your heart and make you long for a dragon friend of your very own. Sure, the movie has its sentimental moments, but it’s also got plenty of action and some surprisingly scary scenes for an animated film. If you burn (pun intended) through How to Train Your Dragon and are left wanting more, you can also check out the respectable 2014 sequel.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
I know, I know. The Hobbit trilogy is a slog (not to be confused with the dragon, Smaug). But Benedict Cumberbatch, people! In my opinion, it was worth the CGI-bloated wait to see the motion captured Smaug, modeled after and voiced by Mr. Cumberbatch himself. Perhaps one day we'll get a live action Hobbit adaptation that actually captures the charm of the source material; in the meantime, let's just admire the might of the dread Smaug.
This stunning film doesn’t get the love it deserves, especially considering its impressive special effects. A powerful elf who was horribly betrayed by the man she loves, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) has a reputation as a truly wicked stepmother. The movie explores themes of vengeance and family, but it also features a spectacular dragon in the form of Maleficent’s right-hand man Diaval, who transforms into a dragon to take down an army of guards. The film challenges its audience to decide what really makes a villain, and that applies to its depiction of dragons as well.
Featured still from DragonHeart via Universal Pictures.
This article was originally published on October 25th, 2016.