The Matrix franchise was created by writers-directors the Wachowskis and producer Joel Silver. The series primarily consists of a trilogy of science fiction action films beginning with The Matrix (1999) and continuing with two sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions (both in 2003), all written and directed by the Wachowskis and produced by Joel Silver. The franchise is owned by Warner Bros., which distributed the films along with Village Roadshow Pictures. The latter, along with Silver Pictures, are the two production companies that worked on all three films.
The series features a cyberpunk story of the technological fall of mankind, in which the creation of artificial intelligence led the way to a race of self-aware machines that imprisoned mankind in a virtual reality system (the Matrix) to be farmed as a power source. Occasionally, some of the prisoners manage to break free from the system and, considered a threat, become pursued by the artificial intelligence both inside and outside of it. The films focus on the plight of Neo (Keanu Reeves), Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) trying to free humanity from the system while pursued by its guardians, such as Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving). The story incorporates references to numerous philosophical, religious, or spiritual ideas, among others the dilemma of choice vs. control, the brain in a vat thought experiment, messianism, and the concepts of inter-dependency and love. Influences include the principles of mythology, anime, and Hong Kong action films (particularly ‘heroic bloodshed’ and martial arts movies). The film series is notable for its use of heavily choreographed action sequences and ‘bullet time’ slow motion effects, which revolutionized action films to come.
The characters and setting of the films are further explored in other media set in the same fictional universe, including animation, comics, and video games. The comic ‘Bits and Pieces of Information’ and The Animatrix short film ‘The Second Renaissance’ act as prequels to the films, explaining how the franchise's setting came to be. The video game Enter the Matrix connects the story of the Animatrix short ‘Final Flight of the Osiris’ with the events of Reloaded, while the online video game The Matrix Online was a direct sequel to Revolutions. These were typically written, commissioned, or approved by the Wachowskis.
The first film was an important critical and commercial success, winning four Academy Awards, introducing popular culture symbols such as the red pill and blue pill, and influencing action filmmaking. For those reasons it has been added to the National Film Registry for preservation. Its first sequel was also a commercial success, becoming the highest-grossing R-rated film in history, until it was surpassed by Deadpool in 2016. As of 2006, the franchise has generated $3 billion in revenue. A fourth Matrix film is in development for its December 22, 2021 release, with Lana Wachowski producing, co-writing, and directing and Reeves and Moss reprising their roles.
The series depicts a future in which Earth is dominated by a race of self-aware machines that was spawned from the creation of artificial intelligence early in the 21st century. At one point conflict arose between mankind and machines, and the machines rebelled against their creators. Mankind attempted to block out the machines' source of solar power by covering the sky in thick, stormy clouds. A massive war emerged between the two adversaries which ended with the machines victorious, capturing mankind. Having lost their definite source of energy, the machines devised a way to extract the human body's bioelectric and thermal energies by enclosing people in pods, while their minds are controlled by cybernetic implants connecting them to a simulated reality called the Matrix.
The virtual reality world simulated by the Matrix resembles human civilization around the turn of the 21st century (this time-period was chosen because it is supposedly the pinnacle of human civilization). The environment inside the Matrix is practically indistinguishable from reality (although scenes set within the Matrix are presented on-screen with a green tint to the footage, and a general bias towards the colour green), and many humans connected to it are unaware of its true nature. Most of the central characters in the series can gain superhuman abilities within the Matrix by taking advantage of their understanding of its true nature to manipulate its virtual physical laws. The films take place both inside the Matrix and outside of it, in the real world; the parts that take place in the Matrix are set in a vast Western megacity.
The virtual world is first introduced in The Matrix. The short comic ‘Bits and Pieces of Information’ and the Animatrix short film The Second Renaissance show how the initial conflict between mankind and machines came about, and how and why the Matrix was first developed. Its history and purpose are further explained in The Matrix Reloaded. In ‘The Matrix Revolutions’ a new status quo is established in the Matrix's place in mankind and machines' conflict.
In March 2017, The Hollywood Reporter wrote that Warner Bros., was in the preliminary stages of developing a re-launch of the franchise. Consideration was given to producing a Matrix television series but was dismissed as the studio opted to pursue negotiations with Zak Penn in writing a treatment for a new film, with Michael B. Jordan eyed for the lead role. According to the article, the Wachowskis were not involved at that point. In response to the report, Penn refuted all statements regarding a reboot, remake, or continuation, remarking that he was working on stories set in the pre-established continuity.
Potential plotlines being considered by Warner Bros. Pictures included a prequel film about a young Morpheus, or an alternate storyline with a focus on one of his descendants. By April 2018, Penn described the script as ‘being at a nascent stage’. Later, in September 2019, Jordan addressed the rumours of his involvement by saying he was ‘flattered’, but without making a definitive statement. In October 2019, Penn confirmed the script he wrote is set within an earlier time-period than the first three films in the franchise.
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