Dragons, did they really exist? (Top Ten Most Popular Dragons)

do dragons exist?
It would be hard to miss a big guy like this.

Did dragons exist? Here are the facts

Obviously, the answer is no. After all, if something that big and powerful existed, how would anyone miss them?

And yet, almost every culture in the world has some kind of powerful reptilian creature in their mythology, from fearsome European dragons and sea monsters to and benevolent East Asian serpents.

Maybe everyone saw the fossils left by dinosaurs and pterosaurs and came to similar conclusions. Or maybe ancient people really did encounter dragons before they vanished without a trace…

Regardless of whether dragons were ever real or not, people can’t stop putting them in stories. As such, here are ten of the most popular dragons.  

10. Saphira (Inheritance Cycle)

Saphira, as she appeared in the otherwise-terrible movie adaptation.

The Inheritance Cycle might be kind of cliché, but it works as a kid’s introduction to the high fantasy genre. The primary dragon in the story is Saphira, who bonds with the hero Eragon.

Saphira can speak with Eragon through telepathy, giving her as much characterization as any of the humans or elves. But what really brings her to life is the amount of detail put into her, especially in her hatching and growth. 

9. Haku (Spirited Away)

Haku in his draconic shape.

A lot of dragons can be big or scary, but some, like Haku, are instead mysterious.

Haku is a spirit bound into service at the mystical bathhouse where protagonist Chihiro is trapped. He’s the right-hand man (?) of the villainous Yubaba while helping Chihiro behind Yubaba’s back, keeping his true goals hidden and making him hard for anyone to trust. Plus, he’s pretty sharp-looking in both human and dragon form.

8. Tiamat (Dungeons and Dragons)

Tiamat in all her fifth-edition glory.

Even a juvenile dragon in D&D can threaten a party at the wrong level, and they only get stronger as they get older. So try not to cross one who’s been terrorizing adventurers since the first edition.

Named after the primal Babylonian ocean deity, Tiamat is the queen of the Evil-aligned chromatic dragons and the goddess of greed and tyranny. Each of her five heads represents a different color of dragon and wields a different breath attack. Just hope she doesn’t turn up as the final boss of your next campaign.

7. Alduin (The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim)

Alduin, dropping in on the player.

Alduin is the firstborn of Nirn’s dragons and the World-Eater, created to destroy the world when its time has passed. But if that wasn’t threatening enough, he’s decided that he’d rather rule as a god.

Skyrim’s dragons are huge beasts that require both skill and power to take them down, so it’s immensely satisfying to take them down. That satisfaction only gets stronger against the greatest of the dragons himself. And it’s hard to top his debut, in which he drops out of the sky in the game’s first five minutes and destroys the surrounding town while trying to kill the protagonist.

6. Deathwing (World of Warcraft)

Deathwing, after doing some redecorating of his surroundings.

Like Alduin, Deathwing the Destroyer is another draconic quasi-deity who fell to evil. Once the godlike Aspect of Earth who sculpted the land for mortals, the whispers of the Lovecraftian Old Gods drove him to the sound decision that he must destroy the world to get them to leave him alone. He serves as the chief antagonist of the game’s third expansion, Cataclysm.

In the opening cutscene, Deathwing makes his mark by bursting out of the earth and smashing up several iconic locations. While stays in the background for most of the storyline, his boss fight at the end requires that the heroes tear off his armor while riding on his back over a giant maelstrom. If that memorable enough, his booming voice and the lava glowing out of his scales makes him stick in the players’ minds.

5. Falkor (The Neverending Story)

Falkor and his smaller friend Atreyu.

A kinder presence on the list, Falkor the luckdragon makes his debut saving the young Atreyu from drowning. He then accompanies him on his journey to stop the world’s destruction, often carrying him on his back. Falkor is kind and optimistic, providing relief in a frankly terrifying kids’ movie.

Unlike many other movie dragons, Falkor comes to life through puppetry rather than computer-generated images, so he always feels like he’s in the scene with the human actors. And who wouldn’t want to ride on something that fluffy?

4. The Hungarian Horntail (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)

The Hungarian Horntail, ready to defend her eggs from any plucky teen wizards.

Out of the dragons that appear in the Harry Potter franchise, the Hungarian Horntail makes the biggest mark. She’s only around for one scene, where she guards an egg that Harry must steal for a tournament, but it’s enough to wow the audience.

The encounter in the book is exciting enough, as Harry uses his wits and skill on a broom to prove he has a chance in this contest. But the film adaptation ups the thrills by having the Horntail break free and chase Harry all across Hogwarts through the air, creating one of the movies’ best sequences.

3. Drogon, Viserion, and Rhaegal (A Song of Fire and Ice/Game of Thrones)

Drogon and his 'mother' destroying the surrounding battlefield.

Brothers Drogon, Viserion, and Rhaegal are the sole existing dragons in their setting. Their dramatic and fiery hatching was enough to signal that the world is changing. But their impact has only grown as they’ve gone from adorable babies small enough to ride on their “mother” Daenerys’s shoulder to airplane-sized monsters.

In a medieval world where magic is rare and usually low-key, Daenerys’s dragons can wipe out an entire army with their burning breath. They’re such a gamebreaker that the only chance the White Walkers have for beating them is (spoilers!) to get an undead dragon of their own.

2. Toothless (How To Train Your Dragon)

Toothless as he appears in the movie version, with a few weirder dragons in the background.

While he started out as a book character, Toothless’s popularity didn’t explode until he made it to the movies. In the transition from page to screen, he also went from a Common or Garden Dragon to his more recognizable Night Fury design.

In the films, wimpy Viking Hiccup tries to kill a dragon to prove himself, but instead befriends Toothless. He convinces the rest of his tribe to become dragon trainers as well and make audiences wish they could do the same. Toothless blends a cute design with raw power and a snarky yet loyal personality that makes him popular with kids and adults alike.

1. Smaug (The Hobbit)

The film version of Smaug, already in the process of burning everything.

People credit J.R.R. Tolkien with inventing the fantasy genre, but most of the tropes he used were already present in western European lore. He’s huge, proud, greedy, and breathes fire. It would be easy to dismiss him as just another standard-issue dragon.

Unlike these medieval dragons, however, Smaug is no dumb animal. He’s clever enough to notice the hero Bilbo while he’s invisible, and establishes himself as a menace through their conversation before he starts burning things.

Even his death is a memorable subversion of dragon clichés, since rather than being slain by the hero in the climax, he’s shot down by a side character three-fourths of the way through the story.

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