The Matrix (1999) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0133093/, then
The Animatrix (2003) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0328832/, followed by
Reloaded (2003) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0234215/ then
Revolutions (2003) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0242653/ .
I'm not going to give a play-by-play review of each film. Chances are everyone has seen them by now. And if you haven't, just watch The Matrix. It's a good film. It was groundbreaking in its time. Many films, television, even commercials refer back to The Matrix in style and effects. Thus it's a sort of a milestone of a film in how it affected the film and entertainment culture that came after.
The Matrix is as good as ever and definitely works well as a stand-alone. I'm still not tired of this movie. I could easily could watch just The Matrix, stop, and be satisfied. That's probably the best way to watch the series - just watch the first one.
But, for the sake of completeness, I watched the rest anyhow.
Watching these films as they hit the theaters amounted to being blown away by The Matrix, followed by mounting anticipation for Reloaded, fueled by the Animatrix, only to be crushed with disappointment, followed by mounting apprehension for Revolutions and feeling forced to see it just to finish the series off. However, one thing I do have to admit is that watching the movies back-to-back almost improves the sequels due to being constantly immersed in the movie's universe for a short period of time. Almost.
The Animatrix was a direct-to-video collection of animated stories set in the Matrix universe, intended to whip people's interest in the series to a nice froth until Reloaded was released. It has a couple of interesting stories, I especially like The Second Renaissance parts 1 & 2 because it gives the history that sets up the war between humans and machines and how the Matrix came about as a result. 2 more segments tie directly into the sequel films that follow, and the rest are just ancillary stories set in the same world as the Matrix. Watching this isn't required to follow what happens in the later two flicks, but it is interesting enough if you're of the mind to see everything.
Reloaded and Revolutions - neither could stand alone as films. They depend heavily on their predicessors and assume the viewers already know what led up to those moments. They add extra junk that does nothing for the story. They try to make the whole 'savior of the world' motif almost supernatural in a thinly veiled messiah parallel - moreso than the original Matrix touches on. I think my brain figured out how to screen out the excess junk that does nothing but fill time and is so disappointing and just pay attention to the core bits that seem to drive the Matrix story.
I do have a Matrix within a Matrix theory that explains the 'savior' parallel, how Neo could be so effective against the machines outside the Matrix, how Smith could exist outside the Matrix, and does nothing to excuse the extra junk, but it's probably too lengthy to go into here.
Despite the disappointment of the two sequels, they do embed some interesting advancements to the core story, they do give us interesting supporting characters (good and bad), and some entertaining chase and badass fight sequences.
I'm still impressed by the actor playing Bane, the dude that was taken over by Agent Smith from within the Matrix and returned to the external world, because he does such a good job mirroring Hugo Weaving's performance as Smith.
Bound (1996) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0115736/
The Matrix would not have been made if Bound hadn't been made first. Warner Brothers had reservations about letting the Wachowski
In Bound, a female ex-con gets a gangster's girlfriend to fall in love with her, steal the mob's money the gangster is holding and attempt to pin the blame on the gangster. If only the plan worked as smoothly as it sounds. A dark thriller/drama type film with a little violence and sexytime.
It's a pretty good story, directed well and acted well. You get to see a predecessor of the 'bullet time' technique used in The Matrix, sort of an effect test run. You get to see a very good strong performance by Joe Pantoliano. And if you've ever had fantasies of a Gina Gershon with Jennifer Tilly love scene - you're set.
It's an interesting film, it's entertaining, and it's a good thing too because it made The Matrix possible. Definitely worth watching because it is a good movie in its own right and it never received the marketing it deserved.