Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Top 10 Movie Dragons

Seeing how DreamWorks' new "How to Train Your Dragon" is about ready to swoop into theaters it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take a look back at the history of dragons in feature films. What you will find below is a a list of Top 10 Movie Dragons. Some come from good films, and others... do not. All however are memorable characters who do the title of dragon proud.

A couple of notes before we begin. I was pretty unforgiving on the term dragon (with an exception or two). You won't find demons, dinosaurs, Godzilla, or even Hydras. This list is about dragons. Period. I'll also offer a half-hearted apology for not including the likes of "D-Wars" and "Q - The Winged Serpent" (which I haven't seen) and "Dungeons and Dragons" (which was so awful I can't even remember if it included dragons or not). I'll also take the opportunity to throw out an honorable mention to the dragon from "Shrek" who barely missed the cut.

Enough with the foreplay, now on with the show...

10. Saphira from "Eragon"

Now, Eragon is no Harry Potter, but as dragons go, the last female dragon in all of Alaga√ęsia ain't too shabby. In the film, the blue dragon hatches from the egg growing rapidly to full-size before bonding with her "dragon rider," allowing both to become stronger than either would be separately. Saphira's abilities include a telepathic bond with Eragon along with flight and fire-breath. Even with the armor the dragon wears in the film's climactic battle, Saphira looks every bit the CGI creation she is and never quite becomes the fully-realized character promised in the script.

9. Draco from "Dragonheart"

Speaking of CGI dragons in so-so fantasy flicks, Draco (voiced by the original James Bond) sacrifices part of himself to save a prince (David Thewlis) only to later see his gift wasted when the new king proves to be a brutal tyrannical despot. Blaming Draco for the evil in his heart of his former apprentice, Bowen (Dennis Quaid) begins hunting all dragons. The movie is a preachy and sappy trainwreck, but the design of Draco and the idea of a dragon with the ability to share his life with a mortal does add something distinct to the genre.

8. The Hungarian Horntail from "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"

It's only the fact that the Hungarian Horntail has so little to do with the film (and has a very limited, though memorable, amount of screentime) that it doesn't score higher on the list. The Horntail, we are informed, is the most dangerous breed of dragon with a spiked tail almost as fearsome as it's horned head, capable of fire-blasting young Mr. Potter into next week. Of all the dragons on the list, this is the most primal. It's a mean beast to be sure, and menacing as hell, but not evil.

7. The Dragon's Breath from "Excalibur"

Although the dragon himself never appears on camera, the legend and magical properties of his breath are crucial to the heart of John Boorman's adaptation of the King Arthur legend. Even if it only appears as fog or mist, the breath of the dragon is the most powerful force in the film, and, as we learn, something to be respected - and not trifled with. It is through this magical fog--the breath of the dragon hidden deep in the earth--that both Morgana Le Fey (Helen Mirren) and Merlin (Nicol Williamson) are able to use the "Charm of Making" to perform their magic.

6. Mushu from "Mulan"

Mushu might be the smallest dragon on the list, but that doesn't mean he's to be ignored. Once the guardian angel of Mulan's family, the fallen Mushu (voiced by Eddie Murphy) is given a chance at redemption by turning the young runaway (Ming-Na) into a Chinese war hero. Aside from offering Disney's usual brand of sidekick comic relief, Mushu's abilities also allow him to communicate with a variety of animals over the course of the film, as well as breathe fire. Oh, and he also excels in getting Mulan into all kinds of trouble.

5. Dragons from "Reign of Fire"

From one of the most singular dragon characters on the list we change gears dramatically for a horde of nameless dragons. The dragons in "Reign of Fire" individually may not be all that memorable, but, unlike the other movies mentioned on this list, what the film lacks in quality in more than makes up for in quantity. Though there is only one male dragon the band of survivors (led by Matthew McConaughey) hunt, the film is filled with with many flying dragons that allow for some good action sequences, if not always good writing.

4. Falcor from "The Neverending Story"

Falcor stands out (and almost didn't make the cut) because he's a far cry from the image I have of a dragon. Though his appearance (puppy dog face and floppy ears) is far removed from the original German novel, Falcor is a luckdragon, and as such belongs on the list. Though he lacks scales, or magical abilities, our luckdragon is a powerful companion who flies, breathes fire, and is both intelligent and lucky. Falcor also seems to have a lasting legacy as you can see his reflection in at least two of the dragons we've already covered: Saphira and Draco.

3. Maleficent from "Sleeping Beauty"

Of all of Walt Disney's villains, both classic and contemporary, there are few (if any) that can match both the power and menace of the "Mistress of All Evil." Maleficent (Eleanor Audley) diabolically curses the recently born princess. Years later Maleficent is forced to throw everything in the path of Prince Phillip (who alone can wake the sleeping beauty) including a dungeon, countless minions, and a forest of thorns. When all else fails, the witch transforms herself into a gigantic black dragon in one of Disney's most memorable moments.

2. Elliot from "Pete's Dragon"

With the possible exception of Falcor, none of the dragons on this list have the spirit nor the heart of Elliot. Decades before "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," Disney created a live-action film about a young orphan (Sean Marshall) and his animated invisible green and purple dragon. Though a good friend, Elliot's clumsiness often gets Pete into trouble with both the townspeople and traveling salesmen. However, when Pete finds himself in danger, it's Elliot who rescues him, along with Nora's fiancé, and reveals himself as a real hero to the rest of the town.

1. Vermithrax Pejorative from "Dragonslayer"

It's been almost 30 years and Hollywood still has yet to create a dragon, or a movie about dragons, that matches "Dragonslayer." "Ally McBeal's" John Cage (Peter MacNicol) is a young wizard apprentice who is tasked with killing the ancient dragon Vermithrax Pejorative who has been terrorizing the kingdom of Urland for years. The dragon presented here might show his age a little, and might not quite rate as high in terms of design as some of the newer CGI creations on this list, but this dragon has definite presence, a cunning (if still primal) mind, and a hidden cave perfect for the movie's final showdown. This dragon includes the best qualities from many of those on the list and that's why it earns the number-one spot.

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