The trailer for The Matrix Resurrections, the first installment in the venerable dystopian sci-fi action series in over 18 years, is out in the world and with it, a flood of memories of what last happened to Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus.
There’s plenty of time between now and then though to revisit the trilogy (all three movies are currently on HBO Max), so in-between brushing up on your kung-fu or dusting off your pince-nez mirror shades, why not throw on a couple of these movies to make the wait a bit shorter? In celebration of the new Matrix trailer, we’ve pulled together a list of nine films you should watch to get ready for The Matrix Resurrections.
From genre-bending sci-fi to existential documentaries and critically-acclaimed anime, these movies will keep you on the edge of your set until the new Matrix movie rolls around.
The Animatrix was one of the centerpieces of The Wachowskis’ effusive transmedia ambitions in the lead up to premiere of The Matrix Reloaded. The anime anthology isn’t just some vapid oddity slap-dashed together for the sake of superficial promotion. The Animatrix is legitimately one of best anime anthologies ever produced, a collection of nine shorts directed by the likes of animation legends like Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Ninja Scroll), Mahiro Maeda (Blue Submarine No. 6), Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop), Takashi Koike (Redline), and Peter Chung (Æon Flux). With essential canonical stories like “The Second Renaissance,” “Final Flight of the Osiris,” and “Kid’s Story” alongside more individual shorts like “Program,” “World Record,” and “A Detective’s Story,” The Animatrix is both a crucial companion piece to understanding the Matrix franchise as a whole and an avowed love letter from the Wachowskis to a medium that inspired them to push the boundaries of action cinema.
The Animatrix is available to stream on HBO Max.
An erotic lesbian crime drama isn’t quite exactly the first thing that leaps to most people’s minds when talking about the Wachowskis’ oeuvre, but there certainly would never have been The Matrix were not for the success of their 1996 debut Bound. Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly star as Corky, a ex-con working as a painter and handyman, and Violet, the girlfriend of a mafioso, who enter into a clandestine tryst shortly after meeting each other. The pair hatch a scheme to steal two million dollars from the mafia and run off together, only for their plan to be discovered by Casear (Joe Pantoliano), Violet’s aforementioned boyfriend. The film is notable not only for its realistic depiction of a lesbian relationship at a time when that was uncommon in mainstream film, but for the involvement of several contributors — cinematographer Bill Pope, editor Zach Staenberg, and composer Don Davis — who would go on to become key in creating The Matrix’s distinctive visual and audio signature. If you’re looking to go back to where it all started for the Wachowskis, you ought to go back and watch Bound. Plus, there’s even an Easter egg to the film in the new Matrix trailer!
Cloud Atlas is arguably the film that will best offer a hint as what to tonally expect from a Matrix sequel in the year 2021, aside from The Wachowskis’ Netflix sci-fi drama Sense8. Adapted from David Mitchell’s 2004 novel of the same name, the epic sci-fi odyssey charts the story of several characters from the 1900s to the middle of the 21st century as they attempt to grapple with the challenges of their respective eras and find meaning in their lives. Starring an ensemble cast including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Doona Bae, Susan Sarandon, and more, the film is a cofounding, ambitious, and at times deeply moving story with an “anything goes” attitude that equally results in some of the most inspired scenes and questionable directorial decisions the Wachowskis have ever produced in their careers. From the looks of the trailer, if you want to brace yourself for the kind of wild cinematic experimentation you’re likely to find in The Matrix Resurrections, then Cloud Atlas will point the way.
Cloud Atlas is available to stream on Tubi.
Alex Proyas’ neo-noir reality-bending movie Dark City came out just a year before The Matrix, and while they were both made in a vacuum, both sets of creators pick at similar themes (and The Matrix even reused some of Dark City’s sets, tying them even closer together). In any case, it’s a dope film.
Set in a strange, inscrutable city seemingly cast under a veil of perpetual night, the film stars Rufus Sewell as John Murdoch, an amnesiac who mysteriously wakes up in bathtub and finds himself accused of the murder of a young woman. Escaping capture, Murdoch wanders through the streets of this metropolis in search of answers to who he was and what happened, all the while stalked by mysterious trench coat-wearing figures who harbor the truth of the city’s true nature and function. With supporting performances by William Hurt as Inspector Bumstead, Jennifer Connelly as Murdoch’s wife Emma, Richard O’Brien as the sinister Mr. Hand, and an incredibly out-of-character performance by Kiefer Sutherland as a nebbish scientist named Daniel Schreber, Dark City may not be the same cultural juggernaut as the Wachowskis’ Matrix franchise, but it certainly stands as one of the most visually memorable and adventurous sci-fi movies of the late ’90s.
Dark City is available to stream for free with a library card on Kanopy.
David Cronenberg’s 1999 sci-fi horror thriller about virtual-reality video games is as perfect a capstone to the director’s decade-spanning run of body-horror classics as possible. Running with the torch from films like 1981’s Scanners and 1983’s Videodrome, EXistenZ follows Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a game designer who must enter her creation, the simulated world of “EXistenZˆ” contained in a bio-technological fetus-like apparatus known as a “game pod,” in an attempt to repair it following a failed attempt on her life. Lost in the psychological strata of her own invention, Allegra must rely on the help of Ted Pikul (Jude Law), a marketing trainee who has a new game pod installed inside himself. The line between what is real and what is the game blurs as grotesque horrors and reality-distorting feints in an elaborate game of subterfuge coalesce into a disturbing odyssey of radical stakes and proportion.
Existenz is available to stream on Showtime.
Ghost in the Shell
Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 sci-fi action thriller is a bridge between the parallel canons of Japanese animation and cyberpunk cinema. The story of Major Motoko Kusanagi, the cyborg leader of an elite special ops squad plagued by existential ennui for her physical existence, and the eerie utterances of mysterious immaterial entity known as the Puppetmaster that beckons her to find them, is one of the defining cornerstones of the subgenre, going on to directly inspire such works as the Wachowskis’ sci-fi kung-fu tour-de-force The Matrix and Rupert Sanders’ regrettable live-action adaptation. Ghost in the Shell’s action, in particular the explosive showdown between Kusanagi and machine gun-toting spider tank, is as impressive to watch today as it was nearly three decades ago, and the film’s themes of technological disembodiment and philosophical identity are a fascinating look into the spirit of an age when people were just beginning to engage with a computer-mediated world.
A Glitch in the Matrix
A Glitch in the Matrix is not a documentary on the Matrix franchise. Rather, Room 237 director Rodney Ascher’s nonfiction film examines how the Wachowskis were part of the mainstreaming of simulation theory, the belief that nothing is real and that all of physical existence as we know it is run by an elaborate computer simulation. Jumping between Philip K. Dick’s mind-melting 1977 speech in Metz, France to interviews with simulation theory adherents rendered as uncanny CG avatars, to the infamous trial of Joshua Cooke known for citing the so-called “Matrix Defense,” the film unpacks the wider social ramifications that come with the belief that nothing is real and how such a belief poses the possible danger of exacerbating existing problems and potentially creating new ones. It’s been over two decades since The Matrix first premiered in theaters and its safe to say that, in the time since, the world’s gotten a whole lot stranger since then. Any fan of The Matrix owes it to themselves to watch this documentary, not for anything that it might reveal about the culture surrounding the film, but for how far the ideas of the franchise have gone on to shape our culture since.
A Glitch in the Matrix is available to stream on Hulu.
The HiGH&LOW series
If you’re looking for some radical modern action cinema worthy of bullet time, it’s time to nosedive into Japan’s HiGH&LOW series. A combination of TV shows and movies, HiGH&LOW weaves a tapestry of gang rivalries and criminal conspiracies with a number of characters who crossover into the various stories. Here’s how we put in our giant breakdown of the franchise last year:
In an era where action movies constantly attempt to wow the audience with ever more complex shots and oners, the HiGH&LOW team have been perfecting the art, rhythm, pace, and science of dynamic and constantly evolving tracking shots since their first season, reaching new heights in the most recent films. In most other movies and series, these types of shots encounter problems such as widely uneven pacing, repetition, or uninteresting setups.
Working with talented action choreographer Takahito Ôuchi, main franchise director Sigeaki Kubo solved all these issues by frequently and seamlessly shaking things up. The camera might suddenly jump 30 feet into the air, then go back down again a few seconds later. Viewers are taken through holes and broken windows, over walls, hurled through the fray, and spun around through dazzling, dizzying camera movements. Discreet digital transitions ensure the illusion of unbrokenness is maintained whenever physical continuity is logistically impossible. The energy and scenography are world-class.
The HiGH&LOW movies are streaming on Netflix.
You can draw a straight line from Keanu Reeves’ explosive come-back turn in Chad Stahelski’s neo-noir action thriller John Wick back to the Matrix trilogy and forward to this year’s upcoming The Matrix Resurrections. After all, Stahelski was one of the stunt coordinators for The The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, and both he and co-director David Leitch were recruited by Lana Wachowski to return to choreograph fight sequences in The Matrix Resurrections. If you’re eager for a taste of what you see in the film, you couldn’t go wrong with watching any of the John Wick movies, though especially the first one. The basic plot is a classic story of man meets dog, man loses dog to violent home invaders, man turns out to be a retired assassin who embarks on a night-long killing spree to exact revenge on the culprits responsible for taking his pup away. The action comes fast and heavy, with terrific physical performances by Reeves paired with energetic camera work courtesy of cinematographer Jonathan Sela. Everybody’s already making jokes about how much Reeves looks like John Wick in The Matrix Resurrections trailer, so if you’re not already in on the joke, now’s really the time to catch up.
John Wick is available to stream on Peacock.
Looking for a similar mind-bending, “what is real” head scratcher to The Matrix, sans kung fu but packed to the brim with beautiful colors and memorable, intriguing characters? Look no further than Paprika. Satoshi Kon’s 2006 film, his final feature before passing away at the age of 46 to pancreatic cancer, is a kaleidoscopic journey into the minds of ordinary people via the adventures of Atsuko Chiba, a scientist who moonlights as psychiatric consultant who helps patients by diving into their dreams to unpack their trauma. When several of the machines she uses to perform her dream therapy are stolen, Paprika and her cohorts must find the culprits and retrieve the devices before the lines between reality and the dream world are irrevocably blurred forever. Filled with fantastical imagery, loving homages to films like Roman Holiday and From Russia With Love, and an infectiously memorable score by Berserk composer Susumu Hirasawa, Paprika is a modern anime classic and solid recommendation for any fan of Matrix franchise. —TE
Paprika is available to stream on Criterion Channel.