Where to stream: HBO Max
The one that started it all was actually quite the Hail Mary pass. It took Lana and Lilly Wachowski alongside producer Joel Silver several years and lots of hoops to convince Warner Bros. to invest the $60 million necessary for what was an oddball mixture of martial arts, special effects and college-level metaphysical philosophy. Armed with Keanu Reeves (replacing their first choice of Will Smith), who had already bombed in his previous cyberpunk venture “Johnny Mnemonic,” it ultimately took an extensive 600-page storyboard to finally give the film the greenlight to shoot in Australia.
Fortunately, the heady mix of hard-R comic book violence and existentialism paid off handsomely at the box office. The prophecy narrative involving a lonely computer hacker named Neo (Reeves) who has the veil lifted into “the real world” by the enigmatic Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and falls in love with a kickass, leather-clad babe named Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) only to realize his “chosen one” potential struck a major chord with audiences worldwide. The fancy shmancy, Oscar-winning “Bullet-Time” effects by John Gaeta (actually lifted from a Rolling Stones video by Michel Gondry) gave the movie eye-candy appeal, but it was the clever blend of influences that gave the movie its backbone: “Star Wars,” “Metropolis,” “Ghost in the Shell,” “Fist of Legend,” William Gibson’s “Neuromancer,” Jean Baudrillard’s “Simulacra and Simulation,” and pretty much the entire output of author Philip K. Dick are owed a debt of gratitude from “The Matrix.”
Pulling in $463 million, the film’s success all but assured that there would be sequels. Despite a brief sojourn attempting to mount a new “Conan” movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Wachowski’s set to work on mounting an insanely ambitious transmedia epic spanning two theatrical sequels, an animated anthology, video games, and comic books.