Are you ready to take another trip down the rabbit hole? Thanks to the distinctive vision of the Wachowskis, The Matrix has become one of the most iconic sci-fi series of all time, with an entire generation of moviegoers discussing what's real and what's a simulation. Coupled with groundbreaking CGI that helped usher in a new era for blockbusters, as well as an all-time great cast led by Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishbourne, and Carrie-Anne Moss, it’s pretty easy to see how the series created an iron-clad legacy across three movies.
With a fourth, The Matrix Resurrections, being released, we’re casting our eye across the standout moments from the original trilogy, highlighting the scenes that had us all trying to figure out what was the truth and what was just a simulation. Scroll below to see which moments made the cut and if your favorite made it onto the list.
20. Club Hel Coat Check
A scene from the lesser loved The Matrix Revolutions, which might not be as consistent as its predecessors, but still has some fantastic action sequences scattered throughout. One of its best comes early on: Morpheus, Trinity, and Seraph head to Club Hel in a bid to free Neo from the limbo he is stuck in. As the gang enter, they meet a room full of bodyguards who are armed to their leather-clad teeth.
This scene is exactly what the series does best, an exciting mix of slow-mo gunplay, physics-defying choreography as the guards leap onto the ceiling to continue fighting, and breathless kung-fu. While it’s a pretty swift fight, it proves that the Wachowskis could still serve up the action goods in between the more philosophical beats of this story.
19. Neo meets The Architect
There’s no denying that this scene requires a few viewings to make sense of, as Neo meets the "father" of The Matrix, who explains to him how the concept of "The One" is built into The Matrix and that it is now in its sixth cycle. What makes it sing though is the scene’s inspired look – with screens on every wall surrounding Neo and The Architect – that is arguably one of the most memorable across the series.
On top of that, Helmut Bakaitis’ performance as The Architect helps carry the exposition he’s clearly there to deliver, providing an entitled and verbose dismissiveness that fits a character who has seen this situation play out again and again.
18. Trinity’s Death
Coming towards the end of The Matrix Revolutions, this scene toys with the audience. After a crash in the real world leaves Neo and Trinity wounded on the floor, Neo crawls towards Trinity, and it becomes clear that something isn’t quite right. That’s when the Wachowskis hit us with a wide shot of Trinity impaled by several different pipes.
While this scene sticks in the mind because of the shock of that twist, its real power comes from turning the attention back onto the personal journey of the couple, with Carrie-Anne Moss resigned whispers adding a real poignancy to the scene.
17. Cypher’s meal
While it’s hardly a scene that would keep action fans' appetite sated, the reveal that Cypher is working with Agent Smith is one of The Matrix’s most underrated scenes. Presenting a pretty compelling reason for wanting to forget his knowledge of the real world and go back to the way things were before he took the red pill, Cypher’s betrayal works because of Joe Pantoliano’s excellent performance.
The actor moves between oily self-satisfaction (the way he chews a steak that he knows to be fake is exquisite, as is the line reading of "ignorance is bliss") and subtle uncertainty that creates a memorable dynamic with the more stern Agent Smith.
16. "Not Like This"
That betrayal comes to fruition in one of the first movies' most harrowing moments, as we see Trinity, Neo, Apoc, and Switch all try to leave The Matrix, only for Cypher to taunt them over the phone. Having already made it back into the real world, he then callously tells Trinity how he’s going to pull the plug on them all, killing them off one by one.
This leads to Switch’s tearful (and now, frequently meme’d) death. Staring up at Trinity from Apoc’s dead body, Switch can only mutter "not like this" before Cypher yanks out her connection to The Matrix and kills her too. It’s a merciless end, made all the more effective because of the ratcheting tension of an increasingly frantic Cypher who goads Trinity from the safety of the Nebuchadnezzar. The fact that their deaths are so swift only makes it feel more tragic.
15. Agent Smith questions Mr. Anderson
The Matrix might be known for its kinetic action, but it’s only fair to mention the skin-crawling body horror that the Wachowskis’ conjure up throughout the series. No moment sticks more in the mind than the first time Agent Smith questions Mr. Anderson, as what starts as a benign tête-à-tête quickly evolves into something far more sinister.
Part of the power of this scene is in Hugo Weaving’s performance, whose muted glee in torturing "Mr. Anderson" only adds to the horror of having to watch skin form over his mouth and have a tiny machine crawl into his belly button. A disturbing moment that hints at the horror of what The Matrix can do.
14. The Jump Program
As part of Neo’s training, Morpheus shows him what is possible inside of The Matrix, including defying gravity to leap from building to building. It also gives the film one of its funnier scenes, as the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar gather around to see if Neo can actually make this jump.
Keanu Reeves laconic performance might be best remembered for how well it works in the action sequences, but his muted "Woah" at Morpheous’ leap deserves credit for being knowingly funny, while the Road Runner-esque fall to the ground which he sinks into before being spat out is also surprisingly chucklesome. Everyone might fall the first time, but at least the film wrings a laugh out of it.
13. The Burly Brawl
In this fight from The Matrix Reloaded, Neo and Agent Smith come face-to-face once more, except this time, Smith is a rogue program and is able to produce hundreds of clones to bring to a fight. While Neo’s expanding powers mean he can hold his own, we get to witness a punch-up for the ages, as the crowd of Smiths try to overwhelm Neo.
While some moments of CGI lessen the effect these days, there’s a real thrill from seeing this sea of Smiths try to better Neo. From the first kick, the scene has a real ferocity, as blows are traded with increasing speed and the Wachowskis keep things fresh by introducing innovative ways for Neo to bring the pain. The stand-out? A pole with concrete he rips out of the ground and pummels into an unfortunate Smith.
12. Morpheus explains The Matrix
After Neo takes the Red Pill and wakes up for the first time in the real world, Morpheus plugs him into the construct to teach him about the reality he – and by extension, we – didn't know about. What could have easily been an exposition dump is something far more memorably here though, as the blindingly white set of The Construct gives way to the scorched Earth that humans now live under.
This scene also gives us some truly inspired sci-fi imagery, from the faded leather chairs in the construct to the fields of babies being grown. Like the interrogation scene above, it's a stand-out example of the horror that sits at the heart of The Matrix.
11. Neo comes back from the dead
The Matrix's finale sees Smith seemingly get the best of Neo, shooting him point blank before he can pick up a phone to get out of The Matrix. As all hope looks lost, Trinity tells Neo's body in the real world to get up in The Matrix and – surprise! – he does. Neo is now able to see the world in The Matrix's code, with the Agents at the end of the hallway all humming bright green, while lines of code fall down the sides.
This gets the spot on our list not only for the gratification of Neo finally realizing his true power – Keanu's bored face at taking on Smith once he gets back up is really a treat – but the way it takes a moment that could feel quite cliché and imbues it with enough visual flair to make it standout.
10. Highway Chase
The Matrix Reloaded introduced some new elements to the series' action with this car chase as Morpheus, Trinity, and the Keymaker flee the Chateau while being chased by the ghostly Twins. What starts as an adrenaline-pumping chase along the city streets escalates even further once it hits the freeway and we see a medley of car flips, explosions, and death-defying leaps.
Morpheus slashing a car's tires to make it flip and then shooting the underside to cause an explosion is as cool as anything we see in the series, and Trinity's motorcycle dash with the Keymaker is a frantic climax to one of the sequel's best moments.
9. Neo and Smith Final Fight
While there are plenty of Neo and Smith fights to choose from – just look up and down this list – their final fight feels suitably operatic to make the top 10. Heading back into The Matrix to take on the rampant rogue Smith, Neo comes face to face with his nemesis for the last time.
The torrential downpour might feel a tad on-the-nose, but there’s no denying it doesn’t lend the scene a certain quality, especially as we see the pair create a sonic boom out of it. On top of that, The Wachowskis throw everything at it, from a moody silhouette shot to slow-mo sprints in the rain, giving this great pairing the climax they deserve.
8. Chateau fight
As moments go, few in The Matrix possess the eye-widening style of Neo holding his hand up to stop thousands of bullets in their path. While it tips its head back to the finale of the first film, it also gives audiences a reminder of the power that Neo now possesses, his abilities getting stronger inside The Matrix. It's a moment where Keanu's stoic nature is given the perfect showcase.
On its own, it's worthy of making this list. The fact it's just a prelude to one of the series' better fights means it deserves to be high up, as we then watch Neo take on a wave of medieval weapon-wielding thugs, which gives a more surreal twinge to the usual kung-fu set-pieces.
7. Agent Smith's interrogation
Hugo Weaving's Agent Smith is the cold and calculating uber-villain that sits at the heart of The Matrix, but the scene where he interrogates Morpheus ranks as some of his best work across the series.
His calm description of the human race as a virus, logically setting forth human's inability to create an "equilibrium" with their surroundings, is an all-time great villain's monologue, but it's when a chink of anger comes through – seething at Morpheus that he hates "the smell" – that Smith's character becomes far more intriguing, as we get our first glimpse at how the Agent might not be so loyal to The Matrix.
6. Trinity’s escape
The opening to The Matrix puts its best foot forward, setting up the world without giving you too much idea of what is going on. From the moment a police unit make the mistake of trying to apprehend Trinity. We then get a sample of all the delights the film will serve up over the next two hours.
Starting from the spinning shot of Trinity holding her pose in the air before kicking a cop away to a rooftop chase that sees a leap of faith, the opening sets up expectations while introducing how its unique world works, instantly establishing the visual style that looks as bold today as it did back in 1999.
5. Red Pill or Blue Pill?
The journey into the rabbit hole begins with this simple choice from Morpheus. Does Neo continue to live in his dream world or find out the truth? From this simple line of dialogue, and arresting use of color, we're left eager for Neo to take a trip with Morpheus.
What really makes this scene work though is how disconcerting the mise-en-scene is. From Morpheus sunglasses that reflect the choice Neo has ahead of him, to the dingy and rundown room that just doesn't feel real itself, the grungy aesthetic works here because to want to see what lies beyond it.
4. Subway fight
This fight towards the end of the first film sees Agent Smith and Neo take each other on in a pretty grotty-looking subway. That dirt doesn’t get in the way of an all-time classic brawl though, which starts with Neo and Smith leaping through the air in slow-motion at each other, trying to shoot each other before running out of bullets and turning to their fists.
That shot alone, with the pair the focus as the camera swirls around them, could have earned this scene a spot on the list. It’s the fast-paced fistfight that comes after that truly elevates it, as we get a sense of the power that both fighters have. From Neo’s running kicks to Smith’s body blows, it’s a scene that makes you feel each punch.
3. "Dodge this"
One of the flashiest shots across the entire trilogy – and almost certainly the first thing you think of when you hear the phrase "bullet time" – this scene on the roof when Trinity and Neo try to hijack a helicopter is a doozy. We watch as Neo is cornered by an Agent before being able to dodge the bullets that are fired at him, the camera rotating around as we see Neo gracefully weave his body lower to the ground.
When two bullets graze his legs though, he looks to be in trouble. Trinity re-enters to place a gun next to his head and utters the series’ most memorable line: "Dodge this". The effortless cool of Carrie-Anne Moss’s performance here is matched by the scene’s roving camera, first pirouetting around Neo before a close-up on Trinity's gun that highlights a rare victory over an Agent.
2. The Sparring program
As part of Neo’s training, he gets to spar with Morpheus, where they essentially kick seven shades out of each other. However, while the action in this scene is top-notch – from Neo being kicked across the room into a wooden beam to his ability later to throw punches at eye-watering speeds – it’s the charisma that Laurence Fishburne brings to the scene that makes it so memorable.
Whether it’s gesturing for Neo to bring a fight with his hand, politely enquiring if Neo thinks he’s breathing air after one heavy session, or bellowing "Stop trying to hit me and hit me", there are so many moments here that showcase why Morpheus is a natural leader and Fishburne’s charm is crucial to that.
1. The Lobby
Could there really be any other scene taking our top spot? With Trinity and Neo heading back into The Matrix to rescue Morpheus, they devise a plan that needs guns. Lots of guns. What follows is utter carnage, as Neo and Trinity rain gunfire on everything The Matrix throws at them, cartwheeling past bullets, running along walls, and dishing out plenty of punches as well.
The reason this scene tops our list is because it feels like the perfect distillation of the entire series’ charms. The punchy action had a tempo that few films could match, with the scene’s propulsive score driving up the adrenaline, along with the similarly impressive camera work, where we see slo-mo shots of Neo charging through gunfire. There’s also the attention to detail in the set design, with pillars crumbling away into dust as they’re pelted bullets, giving the scene a tactile feel, as if you’re breathing in the rubble Neo and Trinity are creating. In a series that has more than its fair share of iconic moments, this ranks as the best of them all.
Need a catch-up on everything that's happened in The Matrix so far? Then be sure to check out our The Matrix explained recap. And for something new to watch, check out our picks of the best sci-fi movies of all time.