Frederick Blichert / Android Authority
Filmmaker sister duo Lana and Lilly Wachowski are likely to be remembered (and loved) forever for their 1999 culturally defining cyperpunk classic, The Matrix. And they definitely should be. But all of her work is, without exception, fascinating and full of absolute gems. With a new Matrix movie coming out later this year and HBO Max (excluding Lilly), it’s a great time to reconsider your work. What are the best Wachowski films? How do they compare to The Matrix? How do they stand against each other?
From box office bombs to high-octane anime adaptations, science fiction epics to powerful allegories of transgender identities, the Wachowskis sisters’ films can be found all over the map while still clinging to several key passages. Her films question authority, challenge capitalism, question human identity and can be read through a queer lens – with her work she often questions biological determinism and characters who choose their fate in opposition to prescribed systems of power.
Below is our ranking of all eight Wachowskis films and where to watch them. Let us know in the comments what your favorite Wachowski films are.
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8. The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
Even among fans of The Matrix sequels, Revolutions tends to rank pretty low. Despite efforts to redeem the sequels, The Matrix Revolutions has some pretty major flaws. After the great success of the original film and the intoxicating themes of its first sequel, Revolutions had a lot to offer. It’s by no means bad, but it doesn’t keep some big promises.
As Neo and the Human Resistance make their final stand against the machines, we get some long-awaited responses and some characteristically cool action scenes, but it feels a bit like a special effects show, with the big ideas from the first two films backseat to the action . Part of what is so exciting about the upcoming The Matrix Resurrections is the promise to reconsider those ideas and give them a stronger finale.
- Check out The Matrix Revolutions on HBO Max.
7. Cloud Atlas (2012)
Some great movies aren’t even that good. Stay here with me Cloud Atlas is taking some great opportunities. It doesn’t always hold the landing, but it’s ambitious in a way that feels commendable and is entirely in line with the Wachowskis’ creative daring throughout their careers.
Based on the novel by David Mitchell and co-directed with Tom Tykwer, Cloud Atlas explores the rebirth of multiple characters over time and around the world. Almost told like an anthology film, it jumps back and forth between 1849 and 2321 between 1849 and 2321. Actors take on multiple incarnations of their roles, sometimes through dubious racist practices. The enormous scope, the spiritual message, the epic themes and the science fiction tropes make the film really unique. Unsurprisingly, critics were polarized by the film, which generally sparked heated debate and disagreement. However, our key works of art are seldom instantly popular, and for all its flaws, Cloud Atlas attracts attention and is certainly worth seeing and talking about.
- Check out Cloud Atlas for free on Tubi.
6. The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
The first sequel to The Matrix from 1999 goes a long way towards expanding the fictional universe of the first film. The Wachowskis go all the way out of here. And they allow us to delve deeper into their world and better understand what Neo is dealing with.
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If a little too much is invested in one’s own mythology and allusions, The Matrix Reloaded also offers us a fascinating look at the inner workings of human resistance to machines. Zion is portrayed not only as the home base of the revolution, but also as the last bastion of human experience. We see people just trying to survive. But we also see them fighting and arguing, falling in love, partying, having sex and standing up for their beliefs. All of this is in contrast to larger than life characters and locations within the Matrix itself. The Matrix Reloaded is a terrific sequel.
- Check out The Matrix Reloaded on HBO Max.
5th speed racer (2008)
Speed Racer struggled to compete with Iron Man when it hit theaters in 2008. This is unfortunate because it could have been the indictment of inspiring some fresh, bold new blockbusters. The adaptation of the popular anime series is visually stunning, exaggerating every element on the screen to create a beautiful and unique experience. It’s also full of the themes and influences that made The Matrix an undeniable classic years ago.
See also: Why Speed Racer was an underrated classic
Speed Racer follows the middle kid in the Racer family, Speed, who races to honor his family. When invited to a seedy racing conglomerate, Speed has to choose between fame and fortune or drive with integrity and his family behind him. It’s a delightful David and Goliath story told with an uncompromising attitude that is becoming increasingly rare on the big screen.
4. Sense8: “Love wins everything” (2018)
Does it make sense to include a two-hour season finale on this film list? Is it a problem that Lana Wachowski directed without Lilly? (The two created and staged the two seasons that led to it.) Let’s just go along and embrace Sense8’s spirit of exploring the dark spaces between the categories. If eight people can share one consciousness while maintaining their own independent identity, why can’t a TV episode also be a movie?
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And what an episode – or a movie! The original Netflix series Sense8 was canceled far too early. But in its short two seasons, it offered us a rich portrait of eight strangers who spanned the globe and learned to work together to fend off the oppressive forces following them. The series cancellation was met with outcry from fans. From there, the streamer gave the go-ahead for an extended finale so the Wachowskis can wrap things up. Combining a rebellious punk attitude, shadowless powers that act without accountability, open queerness, breathtaking action, and a bold and ambitious scale (too expensive for Netflix’s blood), Sense8 is a fine example of everything the Wachowskis are best at.
3. Jupiter Ascending (2015)
Jupiter Ascending could be the film that pushed the Wachowskis off the map. It was probably their lowest-rated film, and their Rotten Tomatoes audience rating isn’t much better. It didn’t help either that it followed the critical duds Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas.
But it’s a lot of fun! When a maid named Jupiter Jones learns that she is the heir to an intergalactic throne, she follows a genetically modified soldier who is tasked with protecting her. Soon she must find a way to claim her power and stop those who would usurp her throne. Her (kind of) children want to harvest the earth’s population to make a youth serum, and she is all that stands in their way. Jupiter Ascending explores many well-known Wachowski topics, such as the exploitation of the lower classes by those in power. It also plays its more absurd elements in a completely straight forward way. Jupiter Ascending never falls short with snark and irony. Instead, it leans unreservedly into its own brilliant wild side.
- Jupiter Ascending is currently only available on VOD.
A queer gangster, neo-noir, erotic thriller, robbery film? Why didn’t this become the dominant Hollywood genre for years?
The Wachowskis’ first feature film, released just three years before The Matrix, features a woman married to a Mafia money launderer who conspires with her mysterious new neighbor to rip off her husband. Needless to say, things don’t quite go according to plan. With a viciously dark tone, sharp, old-fashioned dialogue, first-class performances and a sexy, suspenseful plot, Bound has developed a well-deserved cult following. Bound is beautifully blunt too – a perfectly executed visual metaphor shows our money laundering husband literally cleaning blood out of money, ironing bills on a clothesline, and drying. He almost won the top spot among the best Wachowski films.
1. The Matrix (1999)
More than 20 years ago, the Wachowskis rocked the world with their cyberpunk masterpiece The Matrix. The story of a man ripped out of “reality” and revealed the truth – that we are all slaves to an army of machines that keep us complacent in a computer program – changed not only Hollywood, but culture itself. Its revolutionary special effects were used (and parodied) in countless later films, while its themes and aesthetics were ubiquitous.
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The main message of the film was accepted by a fairly broad audience. These include misogynist “men’s rights activists” and conspiracy theorists. A more meaningful reading comes from viewers realizing a trans-allegory in Neo’s journey to escape a false reality that was imposed on him. Lilly Wachowski has confirmed that this was the movie’s original intent and that “the corporate world wasn’t ready for it”.
It might be an easy decision, but it’s hard to deny that The Matrix is the very best Wachowski movie.
Which of them do you think is the best Wachowski film? Let us know in the comments.