The first dragon I fell in love with was Smaug from The Hobbit. Both clever and fierce, he was a force to be reckoned with, and a character that endeared me to his species. But he’s hardly the only type of dragon to capture my imagination through the years. Fantasy skies are thick with the beasts, and I’m here to tell you which breed flies highest. (Caveat: I write this list knowing full well that I’ll reorder it the moment The Hobbit hits theaters.)
10. Yowler, Dragonworld (1994)
If it weren’t for Yowler’s fire-breathing amusement park rampage, which is awesome, he wouldn’t even be on the list. First of all, Yowler? The last dragon on Earth and the best name you could come up with is Yowler. Why not call him Spot? Second, what sort of bizarre misshapen beast is this? He looks like the misbegotten offspring of a bath toy and a Muppet.
9. Dragon, Shrek (2001)
This particular fire-breathing dragon looks just right — at first. She’s sleek, she hoards a pile of gold (just like Smaug!) and breathes fire like it’s the latest trend in interior decorating. But then she goes soft over a donkey. The interspecies love affair is cute and all, and I have to say I love their hybrid litter, but the whole thing downgrades her badassery in my book.
8. Red Dragons, Dungeons and Dragons (2000)
There are lots of dragons in this movie, and lots and lots of “red dragons.” Yet strangely none of them are red — they’re more a yellowish hue. Aside from that, they look great in the air, they breathe fire nicely and they have strength in numbers. But really, people, you should call it like it is.
7. Dragons, Reign of Fire (2002)
In the year 2020, dragons will take over the world having been accidentally unearthed from hibernation. These are classic fire-breathers — their glands secrete gasoline — but they’re lacking the sentience I usually prefer in my beasts. Still, you’ve got to give them credit for being able to breed quickly enough to take over the entire planet when they’ve only got one male. Talk about a swinger.
6. Queen Narissa, Enchanted (2007)
Technically Narissa (Susan Sarandon) is a witch who turns herself into a dragon, but she’s a really gorgeous dragon, so she counts. Her iridescent blue beast is “spiteful, vindictive, very large, but never crazy.” Sadly, she has tiny stunted wings — when she loses her balance she, um, falls to her death, which is embarrassing for dragons.
5. Smite, George and the Dragon (2003)
Dragons in this world are practically extinct, which explains why a mother would decide that the only way to keep her ginormous egg safe is to kidnap a princess to guard it. They’re not very bright, these dragons, but Smite is the perfect name for the last one on Earth. Bonus points for the ability to swallow Patrick Swayze whole.
4. Crusoe, The Water Horse (2007)
Crusoe is not your typical dragon: He’s water-based, lives in Loch Ness (get it?), and can only reproduce by dying. From a Darwinian standpoint, this is not the best way to propagate a species. But I like him because his behavior is believable for an animal, and also — I’m really showing my inner puppetry nerd here — his performance is incredibly fluid.
3. Falkor, The Neverending Story (1984)
Speaking of atypical dragons, who can forget Bastian’s furry flying luckdragon? He’s basically a giant dachshund, which is nice because who wants to sit on a bunch of rubbery scales all day? Plus, Falkor is completely sentient and grants wishes — often a much more useful talent than eating people.
2. Saphira, Eragon (2006)
Once again, we have the last dragon in the world, but she’s a beauty — a blue-feathered steed whose thirst for vengeance matches that of her dragon-rider, Eragon. She spends most of the movie a teen, but learns to breathe fire just in the nick of time to help Eragon save the day. Sadly, the movie was so bad we likely won’t see much more of Saphira.
1. Draco, Dragonheart (1997)
I have a soft spot for Draco (and for Sean Connery). He captures what a dragon ought to be: Cunning, ancient and deadly. There’s an element of fun to him as he banters with Dennis Quaid, and he delivers both fire-breathing and flight in spades. My only regret is that he has to die, but I know he and Smaug are smiling down on us in Dragon Heaven.
Mary Robinette Kowal is the winner of the 2008 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and a professional puppeteer. Her first novel Shades of Milk and Honey is being published by Tor in 2010.