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If you’re lucky enough to live near Islay, Scotland, you may have heard the tale of the Islay Dragon, a myth that has inspired a new limited edition whisky from the legendary Scotch whisky distillery, Ardbeg.
Ardbeg Scorch is distilled in heavily-charred American oak casks for a super-smoky flavour, and will be released on this year’s Ardbeg Day— an online celebration which forms part of Islay’s annual Fèis Ìle festival of whisky and music.
The Ardbeg Day celebrations are free to join online, and open to all whisky lovers. For those who can’t yet taste the “fire-breathing beast of a dram” in person, you can celebrate with a taste of the best TV and movie dragons, and raise a glass of your own from home.
If there’s a quintessential dragon of modern fantasy, it has to be Smaug from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The fire-breathing terror threatened Lake Town for generations, until Bilbo Baggins upset the status quo and inflamed the villain’s temper. Brought to life in Peter Jackson’s adaptation by CGI and the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch, the movie version of Smaug has all the gravitas and arrogance one might expect from a seemingly undefeatable old dragon. Thank goodness for Bard the Bowman.
Drogon (Game of Thrones)
In Game of Thrones, based on the books by George R. R. Martin, young bride Daenerys is given a gift of three dragon eggs on the occasion of her wedding. Anyone familiar with the series knows that, while much of Daenerys’s life does not go as planned (and is ruthlessly unhappy), her relationship with her dragons is central to her character. In the final season, two of the three dragons are killed (as is Daenerys), but Drogo survives.
Free of human control, the dragon, who previously brought down King’s Landing, killing thousands, seems to choose a path of less violence and escapes—but not until after he destroys the Throne of Swords. Say what you will about Season 8, melting down the symbol of the entire power struggle is epic.
The Fire Dragon from Muspelheim (Thor: Ragnarok)
Marvel is no stranger to dragons as part of the mythos, especially given that Iron Fist’s powers come from a dragon. But the MCU hasn’t yet featured too many, making the Fire Dragon of Muspelheim a worthy candidate for this list. In Thor: Ragnarok, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor is playing at being captured by Surtur, only to interrogate the demon and lord of Muspelheim.
Unfortunately, when Thor defeats Surtur, he frees the Fire Dragon, who immediately pursues the God of Thunder in an epic chase. (The Fire Dragon’s defeat also provides a comedic introduction to Skurge, played by Karl Urban, who’s just trying to impress the ladies as he operates the Bifrost Bridge.)
The Dragons of Dungeons & Dragons
To be charitable, the 2000 movie Dungeons & Dragons was…not great. Though it featured Jeremy Irons and gave nods to the famous tabletop role playing game that loaned its name for the feature, the film itself has a reputation for being a poor adaptation of the spirit of the game.
But filmmakers keep trying! The henchman of Jeremy Irons’s evil wizard returned for a made-for-TV film five years later (Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God), another TV movie followed in 2012 (Dungeons & Dragons: The Book of Vile Darkness), and a total reboot set for 2023. The last has some really encouraging names on the cast list—including Chris Pine, Hugh Grant, Jason Wong, and Michelle Rodriguez—so there’s hope that this new edition will live up to the spirit of the game.
Either way, no list of dragons would be complete without at least a nod to the famous RPG that has spawned so many tabletop dragon adventures.
Goodboy (The Watch)
While the 2021 BBC America series The Watch received mixed reviews, the character of Goodboy, the tiny dragon who becomes pivotal to the success of the heroes in staving off a much larger dragon’s attacks, is a highlight of special effects. Though Goodboy spends most of the series in a dragon carrier, it’s the small draconic character who hints at the eventual solution to the problems of the first season. He also represents some of the best special effects in the entire series. (Goodboy comes from the Terry Pratchett novel, Guards, Guards, Guards in which he earns the nickname Erroll.)
Vermithrax Perjorative (Dragonslayer)
Some dragons you love to hate, and the antagonist for the 1981 fantasy film Dragonslayer has a classic villain dragon, an androgynous creature named Vermithrax Pejorative who likes to eat virgins. Dragonslayer came about because the filmmakers wanted to compete with the special effects of recently popular SF films (like, say, Star Wars) by swapping genres and creating something so large and fantastic at the center of the movie, audiences would be impressed.
Building the Vermithrax Pejorative for the film took 25% of the special effects budget—but the dragon (defeated by a wizard’s apprentice in order to save the princess who was next in the lottery to get eaten) influenced future filmmakers and fantasists, including Guillermo del Toro, George R. R. Martin, and sculptor Bill Basso who helped design…
The Dragons of Reign of Fire
This 2002 adventure film featured Matthew McConaughey as Van Zan, a dragonslayer in a post-apocalyptic world where dragons have decided they don’t like sharing the planet with humans. Van Zan is after the last bull dragon, believing he can wipe out the species and keep dragons from reproducing by slaying the last male, therefore rescuing humanity.
Most of the drama in the film is between humans (particularly McConaughey and Christian Bale, who plays the leader of a group of refugees near where the last bull dragon is thought to live), but the spectacle of fights between humans and dragons gives the film plenty of action—and gives dragons a whole new non-fantasy world to rule (and destroy).
Honorable Mention: The Dragons of Dragon Age: Inquisition
Some of the best dragons are the ones you’d want to be friends with. Others are the type that need to be destroyed. It can be really satisfying to take on the role of dragon slayer yourself, and that’s one of the highlights of Bioware’s Dragon Age: Inquisition. The first time players spot a dragon in the series, it’s a moment of awe… subsequently followed by a fireball when the dragon notices the characters. But as the Inquisitor gains levels, taking on these creatures becomes an exciting challenge, and gamers can earn the Dragon Slayer achievement by defeating them all.
The animation and the mechanics of defeating each one are different, and make for an awesome challenge for gamers (who will look forward to more dragon slaying action in the forthcoming Dragon Age 4).