- "Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is...you have to see it for yourself."
- ―Morpheus [src]
The Matrix franchise primarily consists of a trilogy of science-fiction-action films written and directed by the Wachowskis and produced by Joel Silver. The first film The Matrix was released in March 1999; after its success, two sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, were released in 2003. The characters and settings of the Matrix fictional universe are further explored in other media, including animation, comic books, and video games.
The series depicts a cyberpunk story incorporating numerous references to philosophical and religious ideas. Other influences include mythology, anime, and Hong Kong action films (particularly "heroic bloodshed" and martial arts movies).
In the dystopia the series depicts, Earth is dominated by sentient machines. Humans are grown in pods and are connected by cybernetic implants to an artificial reality called the Matrix, which keeps their minds under control while the machines use the bioelectricity and thermal energy of their bodies as an energy source.
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 majority of the films and games of the Matrix franchise take place in a vast unnamed megacity, although it is not the only city within the Matrix, as other familiar locations are mentioned and visited by the characters during the trilogy and The Animatrix.
As this environment is practically indistinguishable from reality, except when a slight green tinge appears (becoming more prominent as the series continues). The majority of humans connected to the Matrix are unaware of its true nature. Most of the central characters in the series know that it is not 'real' and as a result can partially bend the simulation's physical laws in order to perform superhuman feats within the simulation.
The virtual world is first introduced in The Matrix. The Animatrix short film The Second Renaissance, and the short comic Bits and Pieces of Information show how the initial conflict between humans and machines came about, and how and why the Matrix was first developed. Its history and purpose are further explained in The Matrix Reloaded.
The films include numerous and varied references to literary, philosophical and religious works. Notable examples include references to the "White Rabbit" and the "Rabbit Hole", referencing Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland along with the use of a mirror as a portal to another world as explored in Carroll's Through the Looking Glass.
Biblical and historical references are found in the names of places and vehicles in the Trilogy, such as the "hovercraft" named "Nebuchadnezzar". Though it is not clear whether this name refers to either of the Babylonian Kings of the same name, or merely shares the literal meaning "Nabu (god of wisdom), preserve/defend my firstborn son", which could refer to the ships role in the protection of "The One". Another notable name is the City of Zion, often used as a synecdoche for the City of Jerusalem or the land of Israel in Abrahamic religious texts, or to refer to a "promised land" or utopia.
The series began with 1999's The Matrix written and directed by the Wachowskis and produced by Joel Silver. It was highly successful, earning $460 million worldwide and beating Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace for the Academy Award for Visual Effects. In addition, by 2000, the DVD release of the first film reached three million sales, the first DVD release in North America to do so.
The film's mainstream success led to the making of two sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. These were filmed simultaneously during one shoot, and released in two parts in 2003. The sequels were produced under the project codename "The Burly Man" (which later led to the name of the Wachowskis' comic book production company, Burlyman Entertainment).
The first film's introductory tale is succeeded by the story of the impending attack of the human enclave of Zion by a vast machine army. Neo also learns more about the history of the Matrix, his role as the One and the Prophecy that he will end the war. The sequels also incorporate longer and more ambitious action scenes, as well as improvements in bullet time and other visual effects.
- Main article: The Animatrix
In acknowledgment of the strong influence of Japanese anime on the Matrix series, The Animatrix was produced in 2003. This is a collection of nine animated short films intended to further flesh out the concepts, history, characters and setting of the series. The objective of The Animatrix project was to give other writers and directors the opportunity to lend their voices and interpretation to the Matrix universe; the Wachowskis conceived of and oversaw the process, and they wrote four of the segments themselves, although they were given to other directors to execute.
Many of the segments were produced by notable figures from the world of Japanese animation. Four of the films were originally released on the series' official website, one was shown in cinemas with Dreamcatcher, one was shown on MTV, MTV2, MTV3, and MTV4, and the others first appeared with the DVD release of all nine shorts shortly after the release of The Matrix Reloaded.
On May 15, 2003, the game Enter the Matrix was released in North America concurrently with The Matrix Reloaded. The first of three video games related to the films, it told a story running parallel to The Matrix Reloaded and featured scenes shot during the filming of The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions.
Two more Matrix video games were released in 2005. The MMORPG The Matrix Online continued the story beyond The Matrix Revolutions, while The Matrix: Path of Neo allowed players to control the series' protagonist Neo in scenes from the film trilogy.
- Main article: The Matrix Comics
In addition, several comic books and short stories based on the series – one written by the Wachowskis, the others by guest writers – were released on the official website. Many of these have since been collected in two printed volumes.
Over a year after the cinematic release of the final film, Revolutions, Warner Home Video released The Ultimate Matrix Collection, a 10-Disc DVD set of the films. It included the three films, The Animatrix, and six discs of additional material. A Limited Edition of the collection encases the ten discs, as well as a resin bust of Neo, inside a Lucite box.