A Starter Kit for the Wachowski Sisters' Movies Beyond 'The Matrix'
Lana and Lilly Wachowski's filmography includes more masterpieces than you might have realized.
For most millennials, directing duo Lana and Lilly Wachowski have seemingly been around forever, one step ahead of everyone else, using their work to tap in to social anxieties we didn't even know we had, filmmaking techniques no one had used in quite that way before, and imbuing everything they made with transcendental philosophies new and old, giving layers of meaning to even their pulpiest sci-fi stories. They jacked directly into the fears of the digital age with their most famous film The Matrix and its many sequels, forever altering pop culture in the process, but their career doesn't start and stop with a guy named Neo and some cool shades.
If you've somehow missed out on the unforgettable images and stick-in-your-brain plotting that the Wachowskis have created over a three-decade-plus career but were still thinking of catching Lana Wachowski's The Matrix Resurrections this weekend, we've compiled a starter kit of the best and most influential work the sisters have done. And though it doesn't feature on this list, we'd be fools not to sing the praises of Jupiter Ascending, the strangest space opera you will ever see.
Though they hit it big with their second movie three years later, the Wachowskis' first feature is a stunningly great queer neo-noir, starring Jennifer Tilly as a gangster's moll and Gina Gershon as an ex-con plumber who fall in love and plot to run away with a cool $2 million of the mafioso's money. This movie is—and let me pause for breath here because I want you to know how much I mean this—overwhelmingly romantic, Tilly and Gershon perfectly matched in a game of flirtation that feels both classic and new at the same time. And that's not even mentioning Joe Pantoliano's delightfully villainous turn as Tilly's gangster boyfriend Caesar. If you want a Wachowski movie that's not too bizarre or over-the-top, Bound is the best place to start.
Rent it on Amazon
The Matrix (1999)
Obviously we couldn't do any list on the Wachowskis without mentioning The Matrix, far and away their most influential (and maybe best?) film to date, which completely took over pop culture and has burrowed deep into our collective consciousness for decades. If you somehow don't know what The Matrix is about, here it comes: Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) discovers that not only is he, like most other humans on Earth, trapped in an entirely simulated reality created by a race of machines that use human bodies to power themselves, he is also the only one who can stop a rogue AI program Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) from destroying humanity completely. Long black trench coats and slow-motion acrobatics around bullets ensue. The Matrix came around at exactly the right time, dropping into movie theaters at the turn of the millennium, just as society was becoming more than a little anxious about how much the digital world was starting to influence our own.
Stream it on HBO Max
Doc Frankenstein (2004–2019)
We interrupt our theatrical programming to throw a quick mention to the Wachowskis' work in comics, specifically Doc Frankenstein, the series they wrote along with creator Geof Darrow and artist Steve Skroce about an immortal Frankenstein's monster who survived the events of Mary Shelley's novel and has been influencing human history ever since, from the Wild West to the Scopes Monkey Trials, not to mention earning several doctoral degrees. Doc Frankenstein's liberal views have made him a target for religious fundamentalists, whom he battles against in the pages of the comic. The series was published irregularly since 2004, went into a long hiatus in 2007, and then finished up its storyline in a deluxe edition that came out in 2019. This isn't the first comic that had the Wachowski touch: in the mid-90s, Lana Wachoswki wrote a few issues of the Clive Barker-created Ectokid series, and in 2008 the duo released their technicolor adaptation of Speed Racer.
Get it on Amazon
V for Vendetta (2005)
Yet another Wachowski product to be co-opted by the creepier factions of online (where white supremacist misogynists began referring to themselves as "redpilled" in reference to The Matrix, the borderless hacker collective Anonymous embraced this movie's stylized Guy Fawkes mask), V for Vendetta boasts a script written by the Wachowskis, adapted from Alan Moore and David Lloyd's DC Comics series about a fascist totalitarian version of the United Kingdom and the anarchist revolutionary who hopes to bring it down. Despite the somewhat annoying fanbase and Alan Moore's characteristic refusal to watch or be credited for it in any way, V for Vendetta is great, with a very mid-2000s stylized look and fantastic performances from Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman.
Watch it on HBO Max
Cloud Atlas (2012)
One of the most ambitious film projects of the new millennium, Cloud Atlas is a time-traveling, philosophy-spouting jolt of electricity, the kind of movie you can't believe you're watching even as you're watching it. Marking the first of many collaborations with British writer David Mitchell, the film is an adaptation of his 2004 novel about a group of people who are reborn into new bodies over multiple periods of time, endlessly fighting and falling in love and murdering and saving each other through centuries past, present, and future. It features an ensemble cast playing multiple roles, thoroughly exhausting the movie's wig budget, and a beautiful score by their co-director, Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer). It's outrageously long, the sort of movie you either love or you hate, but if you love it, you're going to really love it.
Stream it on Netflix or HBO Max
If Cloud Atlas sounded ambitious to you, wait until you get a load of Sense8, one of Netflix's first original productions that remains probably the best thing the streaming service ever did. In the show, eight people across the world (played on location by a multinational cast) discover that they are "sensates," humans that are linked both emotionally and telepathically. It was praised by many for its depiction of gender, politics, and identity—things that the Wachowskis felt weren't explored enough in television—and had an enormous budget due to its many locations from Berlin to Seoul to Mumbai to Chicago. The show ran for two seasons before it was canceled, but because of the fan response and the cliffhanger ending of the second season, a two-and-a-half-hour finale (written in part by David Mitchell) was released in June 2018, providing a fitting end to one of the most joyfully emotional shows ever created.
Stream it on Netflix