20 Things You Didn’t Know About The Matrix

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When The Matrix arrived in theatres 20 years ago there was anticipation in some quarters, but for most filmgoers the Wachowskis’ sophomore release registered as a startling cinematic surprise. Breaking new ground with all kinds of daring flourishes—of narrative, visual effects, and subversive pop philosophy—The Matrix was impossible to ignore. Its ultimate impact easily overshadowed 1999’s most anticipated film (Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace), leaving an influence on the culture that goes far beyond movies, in spite of two sequels (The Matrix Reloaded. The Matrix Revolutions) that almost everyone hates. As you reflect back on this once-in-a-generation cultural phenomenon, consider these 20 things you didn’t know about The Matrix.


1. Commercial Suicide

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In the mid-’90s, studio execs were skeptical about the commercial prospects of The Matrix and virtual reality movies in general. Their primary ammunition for this argument: 1995’s Johnny Mnemonic starring Keanu Reeves.


2. Development Hell

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The script for The Matrix was completed at least five years before the film’s release. Why did it take so long? As inexperienced directors, the Wachowskis had to first direct a smaller movie (Bound) to demonstrate their skills.


3. Some Explanation Required

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Even after they agreed to make the movie, Warner Bros. was confused about many aspects of the script, describing it as “the script that nobody understands.” To solve this problem, the studio forced the Wachowskis to write all kinds of new dialogue explaining their complex conceits.


4. Almost Neo

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Before Keanu Reeves was cast as Neo, there were several other serious contenders, including Johnny Depp and Ewan McGregor. The latter had to turn the project down because he was too busy playing one of the characters that inspired Morpheus: Obi-Wan Kenobi.


5. Cast Then Passed

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According to producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, no less than three major movie stars signed on to play Neo, only to abandon the role: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and Will Smith. For the first two, the film’s elaborate special effects and lengthy schedule were the main deterrents.


6. Wild Wild Decision

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Will Smith has said he dropped out of the movie because he was “not mature enough” to play Neo. For proof of this, look no further than the movie he chose to make instead: Wild Wild West.


7. Life After Trinity

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Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith would have gladly accepted the role of Trinity in The Matrix, but the Wachowskis chose Carrie-Anne Moss instead. A few years later, Pinkett Smith got a chance to join the franchise when she was cast as Niobe in The Matrix Reloaded.


8. The X Factor

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The X-Files was at its peak when The Matrix went into production, leading the Wachowskis to consider established screen duo Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny for the roles of Trinity and Neo. Unfortunately, both were far too busy with their signature series and its first big screen adaptation.


9. Another Direction

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When The Matrix’s casting woes were at their worst and Sandra Bullock turned down her chance to play Trinity, the filmmakers entertained a radical idea: maybe Bullock could play Neo. Unfortunately, the actress wasn’t interested.


10. The Other Matrix

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When Vancouver native Carrie-Anne Moss was cast in the film, she had only a few small movie roles under her belt. However, she was already a TV veteran by that point, having appeared in 15 series—including a 1993 show known as Matrix.


11. Not Getting It

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Serious contenders for the role of Morpheus included everyone from Gary Oldman and Samuel L. Jackson to Val Kilmer and Chow Yun-Fat. When Russell Crowe was approached for the role, he didn’t even finish the script, citing a problem that was common at the time: “I just didn’t get it.”


12. Too Smart to Succeed

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The ultimate proof that Laurence Fishburne was the right actor for Morpheus: he couldn’t understand why other actors couldn’t understand the script. His only real concern was that it might be too intelligent for mainstream acceptance.


13. The God of Dreams

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While Morpheus spends most of his time helping characters like Neo wake up, his name has ironic roots. In Greek mythology, Morpheus is known as the god of sleep and dreams.


14. Giant Mistake

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When The Matrix was heading into production, Jean Reno was fresh off the success of Léon: The Professional, causing the Wachowskis to approach him for the role of Agent Smith. Daunted by the prospect of moving to Australia for many months, he accepted a role in 1998’s Godzilla instead.


15. Missed Opportunity

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On November 19, 1997, INXS singer Michael Hutchence landed a significant (but still unspecified) role in the film. Three days later, he died as a result of an apparent suicide.


16. Time Well Spent

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In October of 1997, several cast members entered into fight training, believing that this would take no more than a few weeks. They finally completed this process five months later—in March of 1998.


17. Reading Between the Lines

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In addition to fight training, the Wachowskis prepared their cast with a lengthy reading list that included Introducing Evolutionary Psychology by Dylan Evans and Oscar Zarate, Out of Control by Kevin Kelly, and Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard. In fact, a hollowed-out copy of the latter appears onscreen in Neo’s first scene.


18. Live Action Animation

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The Wachowskis have always been vocally enthusiastic about Japanese animation, particularly Akira and Ghost in the Shell. When they first presented their script for The Matrix to producer Joel Silver, they showed him these films and said, “We wanna do that for real.”


19. Pod Person

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Not sure why Keanu Reeves looks so unhealthy when he wakes up in the pod? In preparation for this scene, he shaved his entire body and lost 15 pounds.


20. Taking the Blue Pill

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Most fans of The Matrix came out of the film enthusiastic about taking the red pill and exposing the hidden truths in our world. However, the Wachowskis told one interviewer that, given their non-heroic dispositions, they’d probably take the blue pill.