If The Matrix franchise had never expanded beyond the 1999 feature, that film would still stand as one of the most visually impressive and innovative movies of the twentieth century, as well as one of the best science fiction films ever. But the story now goes far beyond Neo’s first swallow of the red pill, including live-action and animated films, video games, comics, and more. So, especially if you’re looking to treat yourself to a marathon, it’s long overdue for us to talk about the best way to watch The Matrix.
The Matrix (1999)
The best way to watch, of course, is to start at the beginning with 1999’s The Matrix. While the oblivious hacker Thomas Anderson aka Neo (Keanu Reeves) searches for the Matrix, Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss) and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) — believing him to be The One who will free them from the bondage of the machines — risk everything to bring him into the real world. Filled with doubt, Neo fights through betrayal, the deaths of most of the crew of the The Nebuchadnezzar, and multiple throw-downs with the seemingly unkillable Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) before finally coming to believe.
The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
Six months after the events of The Matrix, we finally visit the only human city left, Zion, just as it’s about to be assaulted by the machines’ monstrous sentinels. Looking for guidance from the Oracle (Gloria Foster), Neo comes to learn the nature of the Matrix is not quite what he’s been told. Meanwhile Neo and his allies must once more face Agent Smith — who survives the first film but becomes disconnected from the Matrix in the process — as well as new villains representing dangerous rogue programs like the Twins.
The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
The Matrix begins as a conflict between humans and machines, but in The Matrix Revolutions, man and machine find common ground or, more precisely, a common threat — Smith. The rogue program now intends on bringing apocalypse to both the real world and the machine-built Matrix. The film seems to end with a final sacrifice, but almost two decades later, the unexpected happens.
The Animatrix (2003)
Released the month after The Matrix Reloaded, the animated film The Animatrix is an anthology, telling stories from different points of view. If you think the best way to watch The Matrix is chronologically, The Animatrix may present a challenge. The stories take place during different points in the franchise’s history, with some chapters making it more clear than others when they take place. For example the two-part “The Second Renaissance” chronicles the final war between man and machine before most humans were driven underground. “Kid’s Story” takes place between the first two live-action films. The rest of the stories are less clear about where they land in the timeline, and cover subjects from a lost cat leading children in the Matrix to a house of glitches, to humans in the real world creating their own version of the Matrix.
The Matrix Resurrections (2021)
Eighteen years after the final live-action Matrix film, The Matrix Resurrections finds Neo and Trinity living under their old identities in San Francisco and seemingly unaware of the Matrix or the events of the previous films. But, of course, if that was the whole story, there would be no movie. Actors from the original trilogy like Reeves, Moss, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Lambert Wilson reprise their roles from the original trilogy. Other key roles have been recast. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II succeeds Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus, Jonathan Groff replaces Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith, while Priyanka Chopra Jonas plays an older version of Sati than Tanveer K. Atwal played in The Matrix Revolutions.
Watching The Matrix at Home
Streaming-wise, the best way to watch The Matrix is with HBO Max. The different films find themselves on and off other streaming services occasionally, but all of the live-action features and The Animatrix are on HBO Max.
When it comes to physical media, any completist would want The Ultimate Matrix Collection on either HD DVD or Blu-ray, released in 2007 and 2008 respectively. The collection includes the complete original live-action trilogy, The Animatrix, and tons of special features. While a 9-disc Ultra HD Blu-ray edition of the trilogy was released in 2018, it ditched The Animatrix and some of the special features.
The Matrix Games
Along with the best way to watch The Matrix, there’s the best way to play The Matrix. Sadly, the most ambitious attempt to bring the franchise into a game world — the MMORPG The Matrix Online, which takes place after the events of The Matrix Revolutions — shut its doors in 2009 after four years of play. IGN credited lackluster gaming reviews, the diminishing critical returns of the original Matrix trilogy, and the launch in the wake the much more successful World of Warcraft for The Matrix Online‘s demise.
Two other standalone games were released the same year as The Matrix Online. The events of Enter The Matrix run concurrent to those of The Matrix Reloaded while The Matrix: Path of Neo bounces all around the original trilogy. Both games were released for Microsoft Windows, Xbox and PlayStation 2 formats. Additionally, Enter the Matrix was playable on the GameCube.
The Matrix in the Comics
And along with the best ways to watch and play The Matrix, there is the best way to read The Matrix (not counting through code). Between 1999 and 2003, acclaimed comic book writers and artists like Neil Gaiman, Dave Gibbons, Bill Seinkiewicz, Geoff Darrow, David Lapham, Peter Bagge, Tim Sale, and more contributed to The Matrix Comics. The webcomics were published online for free, and you can still find some if you dig hard.
But a much better way to read the comics is through the printed editions. Two printed volumes were released in 2003 and 2005 respectively, but are currently out of print. You’d likely have an easier time getting your hands on The Matrix Comics: 20th Anniversary Edition, published in 2019.