20 Unreal Facts You Never Knew About The Matrix
This year, The Matrix turns 20. In the time since its release, there have been two poorly-received sequels, a reboot has entered production and star Keanu Reeves has moved on to a lucrative new action franchise all of his own.
But forget John Wick, and forget Reloaded and Revolutions: Lana and Lilly (formerly Larry and Andy) Wachowski’s original 1999 Matrix movie is still a stone-cold classic.
So, with a fourth Matrix film officially on the way and with the original on its 20th birthday, here are 20 things you never knew about The Matrix.
20. The film almost started life as a Marvel comic
Before they made their way over to Hollywood, the Wachowskis were busy writing comic books in Chicago.
These included horror titles like Ectokid and Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, written for Razorline and Epic Comics, both divisions of none other than Marvel Comics.
It was when the siblings were brainstorming new comic book ideas that they came up with the concept for The Matrix.
However, after the Wachowskis’ cinematic career started to snowball following the release of their debut film, Bound (1996), they decided to drop the graphic novel plans and turn The Matrix into a movie instead.
It was after the film was released that the Wachowskis’ original dream of turning The Matrix into a comic was finally realised.
There were three Matrix comic series released from 1999 to 2003. The Wachowskis themselves contributed to the first series the story Bits and Pieces, which acted as a prequel to The Matrix.
19. The entire original budget was spent on the first scene
To make The Matrix, the Wachowskis originally pitched a budget of $60 million to Warner Bros. Instead, the company gave them $10 million.
Evidently, this was nowhere near enough money for the vision that the Wachowskis had in mind.
Instead, the directors used the $10 million to plan and shoot a scene that they hoped would win them the confidence of the studio.
The opening sequence, which finds Agents pursuing Trinity across the rooftops of a city, took months of preparation.
Though the sequence was shot in only four days, by the time the sequence was done the Wachowskis had already spent their entire budget.
Lucky for them, gambling the entire preliminary budget paid off. When Warner Bros execs saw the completed scene, they coughed up another $50 million.
18. The actors had to do four months of fight training before filming started
Early on in pre-production for The Matrix, the Wachowskis made an executive decision: their actors would perform the action sequences normally taken on by stunt doubles.
Considering the sheer amount of action in the film, fight training, then, was going to be a priority.
Hiring legendary Hong Kong fight choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping, the Wachowskis brought their actors in for what would be a gruelling preparation period.
At first expected to take just a few weeks, the cast would in total train for four months straight in order to look convincing in their fight scenes.
Keanu Reeves for one would train for up to ten hours each day during the four-month period.
The training paid off: audiences were so impressed with the cast’s stunt work in the final product that it popularised actors undergoing intensive fight training prior to shooting films.
17. Will Smith and Brad Pitt both turned the film down
It seems unbelievable now, considering the franchise’s success, but at first not everyone wanted to be a part of The Matrix.
Before Keanu was called upon to play Neo, four big-name actors turned down the lead role.
Will Smith, then the biggest box office draw on the planet, turned the film down to make Wild Wild West (oops!).
About his decision, Smith later told Wired: “I would have absolutely messed up The Matrix… At that point I wasn’t smart enough as an actor to let the movie be – whereas Keanu was.”
But Smith wasn’t the only one. Brad Pitt and Val Kilmer both said no, taking on Fight Club and At First Sight (respectively) instead.
Perhaps most tantalisingly of all, Nicolas Cage was the fourth actor to decline to star in The Matrix, citing ‘family obligations”.
16. The directors wanted Johnny Depp for Neo
Smith, Pitt, Kilmer and Cage weren’t the only big names bandied around for The Matrix’s lead.
According to Don Davis, composer of the film’s score, Johnny Depp was the Wachowskis’ pick to play Neo.
This was pre-Pirates of the Caribbean, however, and Depp was still best known as Tim Burton’s quirky collaborator.
Warner Bros wanted Brad Pitt or Val Kilmer, but after they said no, the studio started to consider Depp.
Then Keanu Reeves, at the time considered a much more bankable star than the future-Jack Sparrow, came along.
Reeves, of course, accepted the role, forcing the Wachowskis’ first choice out – and onto a path to eventually playing Captain Jack.
15. The Matrix made Keanu Reeves the highest-paid actor of all time
He might have been only the sixth choice to play Neo, but it’s doubtful Keanu Reeves has any hard feelings about it.
To star in The Matrix, Reeves took home a $10 million salary and a 10% cut of the film’s $463 million gross.
For anyone counting, that’s a $56 million payday for Reeves, at the time an enormous sum for an actor.
Things were about to get even better for Reeves, though, as the role seemingly nobody wanted him for ultimately made him the highest-paid actor of all time.
For the film’s two-parter sequels Reloaded and Revolutions, Keanu’s deal was a $30 million salary and 15% of the profits.
Ultimately these two films netted him $156 million. This is the largest single payday for any actor ever.
14. Reeves trained for the film while still recovering from partial paralysis
In case anyone should doubt Keanu Reeves’ dedication to The Matrix, just know that it was a miracle he could even walk properly on that set.
When Reeves signed up to star, he was still recovering from surgery to correct a two-level fusion of his cervical spine.
The injury was so serious it had actually begun to cause partial paralysis in Reeves’ legs.
In order for Reeves to return to full health, he had to undergo neck surgery just prior to filming, meaning the actor was still in recovery during The Matrix’s pre-production fight training.
For half of the four-month training period, Reeves had to wear a neck brace and practice less strenuous moves than the other actors.
This is the reason why Neo performs kicks in The Matrix less than other characters: Reeves literally didn’t have enough time to train for those scenes because he was still getting over being partially paralysed.
13. Keanu Reeves lost 15 pounds and shaved his entire body for just one scene
Keanu Reeves’ dedication to The Matrix didn’t end at putting in ten-hour days for fight training straight after debilitating surgery.
Keanu actually changed his entire look, risking the affections of legions of female fans, for just one short scene.
For the scene in which Neo wakes up from the Matrix in the pod, the script required the actor to emerge looking like a newborn.
The Wachowskis and Keanu decided to forego makeup and just emulate the look for real.
This meant Reeves shaving his entire body smooth, and losing weight to give the newly awoken Neo an emaciated look. In all, Reeves dropped 15 pounds.
Happily for Reeves, the scene was shot quickly right at the end of production, so he didn’t have to keep the look for long.
12. Janet Jackson was first choice to play Trinity
Hard as it is to imagine anyone other than Carrie-Anne Moss playing Trinity, she wasn’t the first choice.
Before the then-unknown actress landed the part, the Wachowskis had a pop superstar in mind.
Janet Jackson was approached for the role first, and would have taken it if her music career hadn’t gotten in the way.
Jackson’s touring, to promote sixth album The Velvet Rope, was the reason she had to decline.
This wasn’t the only Hollywood blockbuster Jackson was cast in before she later dropped out, either.
Over her career, Jackson also landed then subsequently turned down parts in Jerry Maguire, Scream 3 and X-Men.
11. Hugo Weaving was trained so hard he had to have a hip operation
Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss weren’t the only ones who put their wellbeing at risk to complete The Matrix.
While Reeves came into fight training still recovering from a crippling injury, Hugo Weaving would unfortunately leave it with one.
Weaving, who plays the film’s unstoppable Agent Smith, was trained so hard by Yuen Woo-Ping he actually damaged his hip.
This left Weaving requiring an operation just before shooting was due to begin, something that naturally impacted the shooting schedule.
At first, it was suggested Weaving might be replaced by another actor, but ultimately the team decided not to let his months of fight training go to waste.
The Wachowskis opted to instead move all of Weaving’s fight scenes to the end of the shoot, giving him time to recover from surgery.
10. An animatronic Keanu was used to film the bug scene
Early in The Matrix, the Wachowskis treat us to their film’s most squirm-inducing moment, as Neo – at this point still Thomas Anderson – is taken in by agents.
‘Anderson’ wriggles around helplessly as Agent Smith’s ‘bug’ crawls into Anderson’s stomach through his belly button.
It’s a shocking, horror movie-style moment that begs the question: just how did the directors do it?
Where today computer magic might do the trick, back in 1998 it was harder to make such an outlandish thing appear convincing using CGI alone.
While Anderson’s sealed mouth and the bug itself are CGI, Anderson’s torso is an animatronic.
The device, a prosthetic filled with instruments to make the ‘body’ move, was built to the specifications of Keanu Reeves’ own upper body.
9. Switch was originally supposed to be played by both a man and a woman
When Belinda McClory accepted the part of Switch, she probably didn’t count on ultimately doing double the work she signed on for.
Switch, the white-haired disciple of Morpheus killed by Cypher halfway through the film, was originally supposed to be played by two different actors.
While one of these was supposed to be McClory, the other ‘half’ of the character was intended to be male.
The Wachowskis’ initial idea was to have McClory be played by two androgynous actors, one for each of The Matrix’s two worlds.
Switch in the real world would be male, while inside the Matrix the character would be female.
McClory’s part expanded, however, when Warner Bros asked the Wachowskis to ditch the concept, giving McClory the full role.
8. Sean Connery and Samuel L Jackson were both asked to play Morpheus
Laurence Fishburne must count himself lucky – before he bagged the role of a lifetime in The Matrix, three other big-name actors were offered and turned it down.
One of these was a post-LA Confidential, pre-Gladiator Russell Crowe, who decided to take what would be an Oscar-nominated role in The Insider instead.
The original James Bond himself, Sean Connery, was also in the running, but he had his own reasons for rejecting the offer.
Famously, Connery said no because he didn’t understand the Wachowskis’ complex sci-fi script.
Also offered the part, reportedly, was Quentin Tarantino favourite Samuel L Jackson.
That Jackson didn’t take the role hasn’t stopped him from being mistaken for Fishburne repeatedly since then anyway, as evidenced in an awkward 2014 interview in which Jackson berated a news host for mixing the two actors up.
7. Only twins were cast for the Woman in Red scene
You might want to take another look at the scene with Mouse’s adored woman in the red dress.
Wanting to give the impression that Neo is inside a repeating program, the Wachowskis had an ingenious idea for the sequence.
The directors decided there would need to be ‘duplicates’ of all the background figures inside the simulation.
Of course, the best the directors could do was cast lookalikes, or better yet, twins, the ultimate lookalikes.
Hence, all the extras hired to feature in the sequence were sets of twins, which gives the viewer a subconscious impression of the Wachowskis’ repeating program.
Look closely, and in some long crowd shots you’ll see what appear to be the same actor twice; in fact, they’re just siblings, no CGI required.
6. A New York author filed a suit against the Wachowskis for ‘stealing’ her idea for the film
When The Matrix first went on release in 1999, it was hailed as a unique piece of entertainment.
It was so unique, in fact, that one New York woman couldn’t believe that the story hadn’t ripped off her own.
In 1983, paralegal Sophia Stewart wrote a screenplay treatment for a film she called The Third Eye, but it was never made and Stewart heard nothing more of it.
That was until 1999, when Stewart first caught The Matrix and assumed the film had been influenced by her own idea.
This led to Stewart bringing a $1 billion lawsuit against the Wachowskis, producer Joel Silver and Warner Bros.
The suit was dismissed in 2005, when Stewart failed to present sufficient evidence, though Stewart has said she plans to continue pursuing the matter.
5. The helicopter sequence nearly got the film closed down
The film’s helicopter sequence might have involved six long months of prep, but there was still one thing producers didn’t plan for.
The scene, filmed at a building housing the screening room for Columbia Pictures in Sydney, involved a to-scale prop of a helicopter minus propellers – these were added later using CGI.
Getting the prop to the location proved trickier, especially considering the vehicle had to be flown through restricted airspace first.
In order to get the chopper through Sydney, New South Wales laws had to actually alter first.
Without intervention by local government, the film would have been left without a helicopter scene at all.
After location work was complete, the rest was done in a studio, something that proved to be far less hassle.
4. The film made Oscar history in 2000
The Matrix may have been one of the major box office successes of 1999, but the film wasn’t just a monster hit with audiences.
The film was warmly-received critically, too, so much so that it was put on a path to the Oscars.
Unusually for a science fiction film and blockbuster, The Matrix got itself nominated in four categories.
Even more unusually, it won all four: Best Film Editing, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing and (unsurprisingly) Best Visual Effects.
What makes The Matrix’s haul even more impressive is the fact that the film won all its awards without even being nominated for Best Picture.
This makes The Matrix an Oscar record-breaker: the only film in history to make a clean sweep at the Academy Awards minus a Best Picture nom.
3. The lobby shootout is completely CGI-free
The Matrix may be a pioneering movie in terms of special effects, but one of its most iconic scenes didn’t require any CGI whatsoever.
The breathtaking lobby sequence, in which Neo and Trinity singlehandedly lay waste to a team of armed cops, doesn’t include a single frame of computer trickery.
The scene took ten days to film, and all of the explosions and gunfire were practical effects.
Shooting practically actually led to a happy accident: when the shootout ends, a piece of a pillar falls off, in a moment of comic relief.
This only happened by coincidence during filming, and the Wachowskis liked it enough to leave the unplanned moment in.
Shooting practically did also have its downsides. Carrie-Anne Moss twisted her ankle at one point, but decided not to mention it until production had ended in case they wanted to re-cast her.
2. The Wachowskis’ inspirations for the film included Alice In Wonderland and the Bible
It’s recognised today as a groundbreaking, original piece of cinema, but The Matrix was not created in a vacuum.
The film draws on numerous literary and cinematic sources, with references to philosophical and religious ideas threaded throughout.
Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism all get a shout-out, while books including Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass are also referenced.
One of the main inspirations was the 1984 book Neuromancer, by cyberpunk-pioneering author William Gibson.
The novel tells the near-future story of Case, a washed-up computer hacker hired by a mysterious employer for one last job against a powerful artificial intelligence.
After watching The Matrix, Gibson said that the way that the film’s creators had drawn from existing cyberpunk works was “exactly the kind of creative cultural osmosis” he had relied upon in his own writing.
1. The Matrix was the first film Carrie-Anne Moss had ever seen herself in
For most filmgoers, The Matrix marked the first time they’d ever seen Carrie-Anne Moss on-screen.
It was, oddly enough, the same for Carrie-Anne Moss, whose previous films she herself couldn’t even bring herself to watch.
When she saw an early rough cut of The Matrix before release, Carrie-Anne Moss was actually seeing herself in a movie for the first time.
Prior to The Matrix, Moss’ films included the now-forgotten likes of Flashfire (1994) and Sabotage (1996).
Moss had instead largely made her career in television before The Matrix, starring in such shows as LA Law and Baywatch.
By coincidence, Moss also had a starring role in the short-lived 1993 series Matrix, a resurrected gunman who exists in an Earth-like purgatory.
Matrix actors: then and now
Now you’re all clued up on your Matrix facts, let’s have a look at some of the cast now compared to how they looked on the film’s release in 1999.
Keanu Reeves – Neo
Keanu played The Matrix’s computer programmer, Thomas Anderson, who took the name Neo when he escaped The Matrix into the real world.
Reeves reprised his role for both sequels. He also appeared in films including Constantine, The Lake House, A Scanner Darkly and The Day the Earth Stood Still.
During the filming of The Matrix, Reeves fell in love with martial arts and became friends with Tiger Hu Chen, who would star alongside Reeves in his directorial debut Man of Tai Chi in 2013.
Since 2014, Reeves has experienced a career resurgence thanks to his John Wick franchise.
Laurence Fishburne – Morpheus
Fishburne played the human guru who freed himself from the Matrix, Morpheus. Fishburne went on to play Morpheus in all three Matrix films.
Post-Matrix, Fishburne appeared in films including Assault on Precinct 13, Mission: Impossible III, Predators and Contagion.
Lately, Fishburne starred in Ant-Man and the Wasp and has recently been reunited with Keanu as a member of the John Wick franchise.
He reprised his Matrix role in a Super Bowl commercial for Kia.
Carrie-Anne Moss – Trinity
Carrie-Anne Moss played Trinity, another human to break the shackles of The Matrix.
Before this, Moss didn’t have much of an acting career. After The Matrix, she starred in Christopher Nolan’s Memento, Chocolat and Disturbia.
More recently, Moss starred as Jeri Hogarth in Netflix’s various Marvel TV series.
Hugo Weaving – Agent Smith
The incredible Hugo Weaving played The Matrix’s sinister villain, Agent Smith.
Before he became a go-to Hollywood bad guy thanks to The Matrix, Weaving was previously best known for his role as a drag queen in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
After The Matrix, Weaving starred in another of the Wachowski’s films, V for Vendetta, played Elrond in The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies and played the dastardly Red Skull in Captain America: The First Avenger.
Weaving reunited with the Wachowskis in 2012 for various roles in Cloud Atlas.
Joe Pantoliano – Cypher
Pantoliano played another human freed by Morpheus, Cypher. Unlike his fellow humans, Cypher wanted to go back to the blissful ignorance of the Matrix.
Pantoliano previously starred in the Wachowskis’ debut film Bound and the action-comedy Midnight Run. After The Matrix, Pantoliano reunited with Carrie-Anne Moss for Memento.
After the Matrix, Pantoliano also appeared in films like Bad Boys II, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief and – from 2000 to 2004, he played Ralph Cifaretto on The Sopranos.
Pantoliano will next be seen in Bad Boys for Life, reprising his role as Captain Conrad Howard.