The Matrix looks dramatically different on Hulu versus on HBO Max

Comparison of HBO Max and Hulu

Hulu on the left, HBO Max on the right

Hulu stopped streaming The Matrix on January 1, 2022. You can stream The Matrix with an HBO Max subscription, or you can pay to rent it from your service of choice.

It seems like a lot of you are searching "the matrix hulu" and ending up on this page. This was not my goal. But this is what happened, so I figured I'd give you the information you're actually looking for.

HBO Max has The Matrix (1999) available for streaming, and Hulu did until a day or two ago, but their respective versions look very different.

The Matrix already has a history of extreme variation across versions. The initial DVD release had a neutral-warm color palette while the 2008 Blu-ray added a heavy green cast to match the sequels. The Matrix's 2018 UHD Blu-ray release apparently hews closer to how the film looked in theaters with a more purple-blue tint [1].

Now it seems that this version fragmentation extends to streaming releases. The Hulu version had a strong green cast, and I suspect it used the 2008 Blu-ray version at its source. Meanwhile, the HBO Max version is more purple and blue, so it seems likely that it came from the 2018 UHD Blu-ray.

Here are some comparisons with the HBO Max version on top and the Hulu version on the bottom:

Screenshot of The Matrix from HBO Max Screenshot of The Matrix from Hulu

The Hulu version's heavy green tint is apparent in this comparison. This is fairly representative of the versions' differences across the entire film.

Screenshot of The Matrix from HBO Max Screenshot of The Matrix from Hulu

Outdoor scenes in daylight get a little weird.

In the shot above, you can see the green tint in Hulu's version, but you can also see that highlights roll off more gracefully. On the HBO Max version, Smith's forehead and the woman's blouse in the background are so bright that they lose definition.

Screenshot of The Matrix from HBO Max Screenshot of The Matrix from Hulu

Again, the HBO Max version's highlights are way too bright, and the shadows on the building building's roof take on a too-bright cyan color. Hulu's version again has a green cast and controls its highlights better.

Screenshot of The Matrix from HBO Max Screenshot of The Matrix from Hulu

Another outdoor shot shows overcooked highlights on Neo's forehead in HBO Max's version while Hulu's handles them fine.

The over-bright highlights on the HBO Max version makes me think there may have been an error in how the file was created for streaming. It looks like someone took an HDR image and did a bad conversion. Or maybe the HBO Max's version of The Matrix looks great on a super high-end HDR display, and nobody tested it on more typical consumer devices.

Even if you ignore the highlights conundrum, you're still left with the problem that The Matrix varies by streaming service. Some people genuinely like the green cast of the 2008 Blu-ray. Others want something closer to how it looked in theaters. When you steam The Matrix, you don't know which version you're going to get, and that stinks.



[1] This video goes into more detail about the history of Matrix remasters.