With Matrix 4 coming, let's resurrect memories of the original Keanu classic
The first Matrix 4 trailer is here. But how did the original 1999 sci-fi action movie change the world at the turn of the millennium?
Richard TrenholmFormer Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
The Matrix changed everything. In 1999, Keanu Reeves and friends exploded into theaters and heralded a new millennium, a new era for filmmaking and a time when bending over backward and flailing your arms while making whooshing noises was the coolest thing ever.
More than 20 years later, The Matrix 4 (properly titled The Matrix: Resurrections) is bringing eye-popping cyberpunk action back to the screen. It's out in December and the trailer for the 2021 reboot dropped this week.
The Matrix opened in the US on March 31, 1999. (It debuted on April 8 in Australia and on June 11 in the UK.) It was a time when computer-generated imagery was revolutionizing special effects, video tapes were giving way to DVDs and mobile phones were fast becoming a must-have. The Matrix captured all that. It's a movie everyone remembers -- even if they haven't seen it.
With The Matrix 4 imminent, we asked sci-fi fans among the global CNET crew to share their memories of the Wachowskis' Oscar-winning, franchise-starting original. In your playground, college dorm or family home, was The Matrix a groundbreaking instant classic or a pretentious cyberpunk snooze?
A whole new universe
I was in Mexico City when The Matrix came out, and Trinity had me at the first frame of that kick we experienced in 360 degrees. It was my last year of high school and I was contemplating a degree in cinematography, so this movie opened my mind to a whole new visual effects universe. I remember spending long hours chatting with my friends about the camera angles and stunts and eagerly considering if we would take the blue or red pill. Morpheus' "bring it on" hand gesture became part of our slang and I'll never look at a spoon the same way.
I have seen The Matrix several times over the years and it remains one of my favorite movies because it still touches on relevant themes, the effects hold up amazingly well after 20 years, and the costumes are as cool as ever.
-- Tania González (San Francisco)
"You think that's air you're breathing now?"
I first entered The Matrix when it was in theaters in 1999, and my unsuspecting 12-year-old mind was blown -- the combination of philosophical elements and Bullet Time slo-mo effects made it stand out from every other cinematic experience I'd had.
It was the first DVD I bought too, so I watched the government lobby shootout and the subway fight between Neo and Agent Smith over and over (to the point where they kinda lost their impact), in addition to getting stuck in the special features and seeing how it all came together.
As the 2003 sequels grew closer, my friends and I got really caught up in the hype. The Animatrix animated short film anthology gave us a delicious helping of backstory and acted as a gateway drug for anime.
Watch this: The Matrix remembered
Sadly, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions were pretty disappointing. They pushed the original's philosophy to the point of pretension, the effects weighed down the action, and Neo's rise to near-divinity made him hard to relate to. Things took an even more mediocre turn with tie-in game Enter the Matrix. The 2005 game Path of Neo was a better effort, but I just never bothered with the online multiplayer Matrix Online.
However, last year I watched the one that started it all for the first time since I was a teenager and I'm pleased to report that it's lost none of its glorious sci-fi luster. I haven't had the strength to revisit the rest of them, and probably won't, but the original will always be a classic.
-- Sean Keane (London)
An amazing one-off
What I remember most about The Matrix, aside from being blown away, was my wife's reaction. She walked out of the theater absolutely giddy, saying to anyone within earshot, "That was the best movie I've ever seen!" It was just such a charming, honest response. We all felt that way, but she simply couldn't resist saying it out loud. And she doesn't usually care for action movies.
Now, the less said about the plodding, pointless sequels, the better. In my reality they don't exist. The Matrix was an amazing one-off, a movie that holds up remarkably well 20 years later. I recently watched it with my teenage son, and of course he loved it as well. "Did they ever make any sequels?" he asked at the end.
"Sorry, bud," I replied. "They never did." #parentingwin
-- Rick Broida (Detroit)
The Matrix generation
This came out in June of 1999 in the UK and I went to see it with all my friends. We were 18, we'd just finished school forever, we were off to university or off around the world, it was nearly the year 2000 -- and The Matrix summed all this up for us. This sense that everything was about to change and we were going from our coddled, safe little worlds into the big adult universe. Plus we were all huge fans of John Woo and anime, and seeing those influences reflected in a huge Hollywood movie was unreal. It felt like our generation was taking over the world.
-- Nick Hide (New York)
I had my first real existential crisis while watching The Matrix. At 14, I'd gone to the local cinema with my dad to see an action movie that had been filmed in Sydney. Sydney! In Australia! My grandparents lived there! Instead, about a third of the way through, I began doubting my existence and wondering whether I'd always lived in the Matrix, giving in to the crushing weight of solipsism that only a nerdy teenager in the suburbs truly understands. I remember I went to the bathroom midway through and stayed in my cubicle for about 15 minutes touching the walls like a baby boomer trying acid for the first time.
I returned to the cinema, a shell of a person, and fielded questions from my confused dad, who was pretty stoked to see a cool action movie, thank you very much, and thought I was massively overreacting. He was right.
That same year I discovered reality-bending flicks Being John Malkovich and The Truman Show which, combined with having to prepare for the year eight school disco, made for a troubling time of self-reflection. I realized I'd taken the red pill (at a time when that didn't have the connotations of being an angry men's-right activist) and I couldn't turn back...
-- Claire Reilly (Sydney)
Should we walk out?
I saw The Matrix with a group of friends back when I was in college. We had no idea what it was about; all we'd seen were a few vague trailers. After 10 minutes, we were all looking at each other wondering if we should just walk out. What was this thing? An office movie about very green lights? We decided to stick it out.
Then I saw the Bullet Time effects. I thought, "This will be the perfect movie to own on DVD. You can slow it down and even reverse the whole thing with full clarity." DVDs were finally becoming more affordable and looking at still images on a VHS tape wasn't great.
By the time we walked out of the theater, we were acting like grade-schoolers messing around with fake kung fu while quoting the movie. These days, there are so many different trailers for films and they're all very easily accessible. But back then, you caught the trailer before a movie or on TV. Maybe you'd download it from
's Trailer site, but that required time and hard drive space. The Matrix was great. It's too bad they never made any sequels.
-- Iyaz Akhtar (New York)
I don't have a good reason why I've never seen the Matrix. When it came out, I was 10, and I guess I never pushed to see it in the theater. What I do remember from the time, though, was my classmates re-enacting the famous Bullet Time scene on the playground, pretending to be Neo and inevitably losing balance and landing hard on their backs. Maybe that's why I've never gotten around to watching it in the 20 intervening years -- so much of the Matrix ended up so widely referenced in pop
I felt like I knew it.
I'll get to it. Eventually.
-- Erin Carson (Louisville)
Believe it or not, I honestly can't remember the first time I saw The Matrix. I'm not sure I even saw it at the movies. But I soon saw it many, many times, because that year I began a Media Studies degree -- and Media Studies teachers looove The Matrix. At least three different lecturers showed us the Wachowskis' postmodern sci-fi flick in my first year alone, all of them giddy that Neo's bookshelf includes a copy of seminal cultural studies text Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard. My teachers were delighted to illustrate concepts like postmodernism and hyperreality with a movie we had actually heard of.
Oh, and yeah, the effects were pretty rad too.
-- Richard Trenholm (London)
The Phantom Menace was better
I must have been 17 when The Matrix came out. I think I was in my first year at university. I saw it at Showcase Cinemas in Coatbridge, Scotland, with my brother and all of our friends.
It seems strange in hindsight but I was such a hard-core Star Wars nerd at that point in my life that I got really frustrated at how good The Matrix was. "This is going to steal the shine of The Phantom Menace," I thought. And I can't believe I am typing these strange words once formulated in my broken brain. I even remember reading a line in a review that amounted to, "George Lucas has no chance of competing with this" and screaming "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO" into the ether like Luke Skywalker.
So I enjoyed The Matrix, like any normal person. But at the same time I resented it. It was everywhere I went -- that was the worst part. People bought those stupid leather coats. Every house party had the soundtrack blaring. My brother bought the movie on DVD and watched it -- no joke -- over 100 times.
Then The Phantom Menace came out. I was so desperate to like it I convinced myself it wasn't bad. It seems insane in hindsight but I told myself (and others) it was better than The Matrix.
Look, it was a weird time for me.
-- Mark Serrels (Sydney)
I'm (only slightly) ashamed to say I've never seen The Matrix, so all the references go right over my head. I used to do tae kwon do when I was a kid, and there was this one time I was fighting someone and a few people in my class shouted, "Do The Matrix!" and I had no idea what they meant. I just made up a bunch of moves and hoped it would slide.
It's one of those movies on my "I should watch this" list, but we all know that'll probably never happen.
-- Abrar Al-Heeti (San Francisco)
Red pill or blue pill?
I don't remember when, where or how I watched The Matrix for the first time. I was 7 when it came out, so all I have is a vague memory of a scene where Morpheus offers Neo a red pill and a blue pill and references Alice in Wonderland. I'll support anything that references Alice in Wonderland.
You remember the scene:
"After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill -- the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill -- you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: All I'm offering is the truth. Nothing more."
-- Jennifer Bisset (Sydney)
What are your memories of The Matrix?
When did you first see the movie? Was it your last VHS or your first DVD? Did you immediately get yourself a Nokia 8110 and learn kung fu? Or could you never understand what the fuss was about? Tell us in the comments, or on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.
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