Well, it’s official. After years of rumors, vague executive comments and slightly firmer insistence, Warner Bros. is finally moving forward with a continuation of The Matrix franchise. Original co-director Lana Wachowski is set to write and direct a new film in the series with Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss reprising their roles as Neo and Trinity, respectively.
Both characters (*16-year-old spoiler alert*) died in 2003’s The Matrix Revolutions, suggesting this new film could be a prequel or reimagining of sorts. Per Variety, “Plot details are currently unknown, as is how the role of Morpheus will be handled, originally played by Laurence Fishburne. Some sources say the role may be recast for a younger take.” Michael B. Jordan, anyone?
Modern Hollywood is dedicated to mining its own libraries as new-to-screen concepts have become increasingly risky box office bets. But after nearly two decades, is The Matrix still an audience draw?
The original trilogy grossed more than $1.6 billion worldwide. All told, the multimedia franchise has earned north of $3 billion from all sources (box office, home entertainment, video game, album sales, merchandising, etc.). The 1999 film celebrated its 20th anniversary this year and special screenings of The Matrix across AMC locations will begin on August 30. Moss believes the foundation of the philosophical sci-fi blockbuster property remains relevant today:
I think it’s never been more relevant. I have to try not to say to people, “Oh it’s like ‘The Matrix!’” Every day. I just recently watched them all again. I hadn’t watched them in forever, since they came out, really. And I just think they’re just so deep and meaningful and have such relevance to what we’re dealing with right now, with the way that we’re being manipulated by our phones and by technology and by the news outlets and the media that I’m reading and the media that you’re reading.
But reviving a long-dormant concept is a hit-or-miss proposition in Hollywood.
The final two Matrix movies cost $150 million apiece. Reloading led the series with $742 million worldwide, while The Matrix took in $464 million and Revolutions earned $427 million. Let’s assume Warner Bros. is budgeting for similar costs and aiming for a similar ballpark gross. Cerebral science fiction is a tough sell at the box office these days, as Blade Runner 2049, which arrived 35 years after its predecessor and grossed just $259 million worldwide, can tell you. Even universally beloved Best Picture nominee Mad Max: Fury Road, which hit theaters 30 years after the franchise’s most recent installment, “only” earned $379 million off a $150 million budget before marketing.
There are some recent examples within the genre that suggest a long wait between entries can beef up box office business. Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($2.0 billion), Jurassic World ($1.6 billion) and Incredibles 2 ($1.2 billion) all benefited from growing anticipation during long layoffs. But the dense and R-rated Matrix movies have never really played in that same sandbox. Plus, a shiny piece of IP is no guarantee of success—just ask Independence Day: Resurgence ($390 million off a significant $165 million budget).
Deadpool money is distinctly possible here given the interest in the series, the steady rise of hard R blockbusters and the cultural renaissance Reeves is currently enjoying. But will Warner Bros. Pictures Group chairman Toby Emmerich be satisfied with something closer to Tron: Legacy ($400 million) or Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines ($433 million)? Warner Bros.—which is co-producing with Village Roadshow Pictures—is a very smart studio and it wouldn’t commit to reviving the franchise after all these years if it didn’t think it could meet internal metrics of success. But that doesn’t mean the move comes without risk.