Early 2019 will mark the 20th anniversary of one of the greatest sci-fi/action films in cinema’s history: The Matrix. The first film was such a success, critically and financially, that it garnered two sequels (which were released within six months of each other, oddly enough) and rounded out the crowning achievement of the Wichowski’s career as filmmakers and Keanu Reeves as an action star.
The films offered original fighting choreography that bent the laws of physics, and then backed it up with science fiction to realize it. The Matrix popularized (though did not originate) what is now known as “The Simulation Hypothesis”; stating that reality is merely an artificial simulation run by a computer.
The philosophical themes may have faded in the sequels, but the concept of a world overtaken by machines who harvest our bodies for power and keep us compliant in a simulation (what we would call, actuality) wasn’t just a fascinating and clever concept, but truly had us contemplating the nature of our reality!
The making of these films were shrouded in secrecy (before the MCU and Lucasfilm popularized the concept) but interest and lure of the trilogy had people clamoring for any behind the scenes looks or facts they could get their hands on. Nearly 20 years later, and we here at ScreenRant can’t resist to take the deep dive and look at the making of one of the most successful trilogies in contemporary cinema.
Or is it even a trilogy? Are movies even real? Am we real? Is ignorance truly bliss? While we contemplate our reality, here are 20 Behind-The-Scenes Photos From The Matrix Movies That Change Everything:
16 Niobe and the original Neo
After Bad Boys and Independence Day, Will Smith was one of the most popular action stars of the '90s. He basically had the pick of the litter, but that pick would not be The Matrix.
The actor famously turned down the lead role, stating, “I wasn’t smart enough as an actor to let the movie be.” Adding, “Keanu was smart enough.”
If turning down a great role in a superb film for a mediocre role in a disappointing film wasn’t already hard enough to take, Smith had to then watch his wife, Jaden Pinkett-Smith, have a pretty major role in the sequels as Niobe. Here they are with their family at The Matrix Revolutions premiere.
15 Neo and Agent Smith Buddying Around After Filming
Keanu Reeves (Neo) and Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith) may have been mortal enemies when the cameras rolled, but once cut was called, the actors went right back to being good pals, as pictured here.
Credit is due to the actors for being able to portray such adversaries when they were really just two friends waiting to embrace.
Weaving's haunting portrayal of the rogue program further distanced him from the nice guy we see in the picture above and interviews he’s conducted.
Between The Matrix, Transformers, and The Lord of the Rings, Weaving has a great track record with mega-budgeted film franchises.
14 Trinity Goes Full Kung Fu
Carrie-Anne Moss may not be a world-renowned action star like her male counterpart, but underestimate her at your own risk.
Moss did most of her own stunts, including the incredible flying kick seen above.
Not only was she excellent in the sharp fight choreography, but the incredible highway scene in The Matrix Reloaded was done with Moss doing almost all of her own motorcycle driving.
The cars were digitally added after for obvious safety precautions and budget reasons, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Moss was weaving and bobbing on her Ducati during filming for the scene.
13 A Real APU
The final battle for Zion against the AIs was a bloody and epic one, with a special thanks to the visual effects team. The machines were CGI and most of the allies’ weaponry was also, save for one APU (Armored Personal Unit).
Nearly everything in the final battle may have been digital (not uncommon for a blockbuster in the early 2000s) but it’s refreshing to know that the Wichowskis decided that some practicality would give a bit of realism to the very unrealistic clash.
Acting as the only line of defense on the walls of the city, the towering machine was something to behold, especially knowing it could actually hold a man and walk when the cameras stopped.
12 The Real Albino Twins
Since The Parent Trap nearly perfected the technique five years earlier, thinking the twins in The Matrix Reloaded were just one actor isn’t a crazy assumption. But the twins in the second installment were, in fact, old-fashioned natural twins.
Neil and Adrian Rayment played the white-haired, white-clad, and white-eyed henchman whose highway chase after the key-master is arguably the greatest set piece in the trilogy.
The England-born brothers; characters were pretty peculiar in the matrix, as they could “phase,” going through most buildings, cars, people, etc. In a film where Neo can do his “Superman thing,” having some pretty gifted antagonists makes perfect sense.
11 Smith's Fake Heads
The infamous Neo vs. Smith(s) fight in the park was as spectacular a fight scene as they come (despite some aged CGI) and many of the multiple Smiths were done completely practically. Actors wore the heads and ran/fought after “the one”.
Weaving did most of his own fighting, while his choreography is on par with anyone in the cast.
His shrug in the picture above is hilariously played against the mean mug wore by the masks.
The final confrontation between the two foes at the end of The Matrix Revolutions used a similar technique with dozens of fake smiths looking on at the bout, an “audience of agents”, one could say.
10 Multiple Smiths Fight Crew
Each one of those people in the credits have a specific job. Without them, the film possibly could have turned out drastically different, or never been finished in the first place.
Over 20 crew members are pictured ready to assist in so many different ways that literal schools have been established to explain it.
You can see the multiple Smiths preparing for battle on the left and a film crew on the right that would make any director jump with joy.
Monitors, cameras, boom-mics, lights, fans, screens, and eager workers litter the lot with what was surely an infectious atmosphere.
9 Keanu, Carrie-Anne, And Lily Having Fun
The relationship between a director and their actors is one of, if not the, most important feature to having a successful shoot and film. The Wichowskis knew this, as evidenced by Lily and her two actors smiling and fooling around to break the tension of the serious set.
Moss had this to say to IGN about the directing duo, “They inspired that. They inspired that from everyone from the crew to the cast because that's the kind of people they are. They are very special.”
The Wichowskis are famously hesitant to talk to media, so Moss added, “I'm very protective of them. You will never get a chance to know them because they don't do this part of the work. I gave everything to them to make this film because I wanted to.”
8 The Size Of The Highway Scene
The second installment of the beloved trilogy went for broke on the action, maybe at the expense of the science fiction. The martial arts and close encounter fighting was replaced with more traditional blockbuster tropes, including a ridiculous chase on a heavily trafficked highway.
Many shots were practical, including the incredible fight between Morpheus and an agent aboard a moving semi.
The sequels budget nearly tripled, and part of that included $2.5 million for a complete recreation of a highway on a deserted naval base in Alameda, California. The track was a mile-and-a-half long; the chase in the middle of the film wasn’t only a lengthy portion of the feature, but was such a selling point that the filmmakers knew they needed to go all out.
7 Up Close And Personal With The Highway
This highway was the real deal. The 19 foot walls on either side were made from timber and plywood, but were painted to resemble concrete, much like a normal highway.
Cadillac motors actually donated 100 cars for the shoot, almost all of which were completely destroyed.
Not only was getting all of the sequences perfectly planned an achievement, but getting them on film was another task in of itself. The camera crew being stuck in the back of a truck right in the thick of it all was just as dangerous as the actors' stunts.
While cars were flipping and motorcycles were weaving, there was a crew there to capture it all.
6 Bullet Time Cameras
The bullet time sequence (when Neo back-bends as the bullets trail past him) has potentially been spoofed and stolen from more than any other scene from recent pop culture.
This was done dozens of cameras set up and constantly recording, allowing the filmmakers to take it from any camera angle.
This also allowed the Wichowskis to get any camera angle they may have need, and to smoothly transition the shot around the actor/actors.
Camera technology and CGI has more or less made the technique obsolete. It’s also been used so much it may be seen as a bit tacky by today's filmmaking standards. Nevertheless, the ambition and technological creativity was a marvel for the time.
5 Neo's Fake Stomach
For many '90s babies, the metal bug going inside of Neo’s bellybutton paired with his mouth literally melting shut within three minutes of movie was a horrifying spell of time.
Fans can take solace in knowing that Keanu Reeves did not actually have to get “bugged”.
The prosthetic above was placed on a table with Reeves below it with his head popping out. Those wires helped replicate breathing and struggling while the creepy mechanical critter slid through his torso.
Digital effects aren’t only effective but can be a outright art form, but keeping in line with pioneers such as David Cronenberg and John Carpenter, it’s just as impressive to do it practically.
4 Blind Keanu Reeves’ Make Up Made Him Blind
Playing someone who’s blind isn’t anything new. Al Pacino won an Oscar for playing a blind veteran in Scent of a Woman. Playing a man who’s blind in an action film, and actually having something obscuring your vision, is a completely different story.
After Neo’s blinded by the real world possession of Agent Smith with a live wire, he’s forced to fulfill the prophecy without the sense of sight.
Neo is still able to see, “Daredevil style”, though the actor could not.
Luckily, most of the fight choreography was finished before Neo’s accident, but going long stretches without visibility must have been tough.
3 360 Dolly of Neo and Smith’s Park Fight
There are other, more old school ways to achieve the shots the Wachowskis envisioned. A 360-degree dolly was placed around Reeves and Weaving during their notorious bout in the park.
Those shots where Neo jumps in the air for a flying kick and the camera spins around him weren't always CGI. While Reeves is suspended, the camera would circle him, and when that footage was played back with a quicker speed, it comes out as such.
The technique was used again with the horror flick Saw, but The Matrix Revolutions beat it to the punch in terms of popularity and effectiveness.
2 Neo And Smith On Wires
Believe it or not, Hugo Weaving and Keanu Reeves weren’t actually flying through the air on set. Well, not without some help. anyway.
Though green-screens are used, the effect of weightlessness is nearly impossible to replicate, thus, wires are there to help.
Being captured with dozens of high-speed cameras, the two thespians are lifted into the air and maneuvered at the filmmakers' will.
Neo’s use of a firearm hints at it being the first in the series (he only uses guns in the first film) so his comfort with the technique may have still been shaky. By the end of the third film, all four major actors had been hoisted up and expected to flawlessly preform stunts only acrobats are used to.
1 Carrie, Keanu, and Hugo Are Besties
The third film in the trilogy would be the last time Carrie-Anne Moss and Keanu Reeves will work with the sci-fi directors, though Hugo Weaving will go on to star and co-star in V for Vendetta and Cloud Atlas, respectfully.
A trilogy that stars the same actors throughout can make some great enemies, or some friends; luckily The Matrix movies were the latter.
The trio snuggled close during the final film’s premiere, as they knew the journey they’ve embarked on is coming to its ultimate close. The Wichowskis' shyness in the face of publicity made these three friends the face of the franchise, something they didn’t seem to mind.
What's your favorite aspect of The Matrix movies? Let us know in the comments!