Enter the Matrix is celebrating its 20-year anniversary today, May 14, 2023. Below, we take a look at how the game broke new ground for interconnected, cross-media storytelling.

Nearly 25 years later, the original Matrix’s legacy as a stone-cold classic film is secure. Arguably, it was pretty much a done deal the second Neo flew off into orbit while Rage Against The Machine did their thing. Everything about action films changed afterwards, from the way fights were choreographed to the way it opened the door for action movies with loftier ideas. But while the legacy of the original film is undeniable, and more prescient than ever–for both good and ill, given how its iconography’s been co-opted in recent years–we don’t often talk about the legacy of The Matrix Reloaded in the same hallowed tones. It’s understandable to an extent. Everything audiences thought was cool about the original Matrix in 1999 had been stripmined for parts by a legion of movies immediately after, with diminishing returns every single time. Given carte blanche to avoid their creation from treading the same ground, Lana and Lilly Wachowski chose to expand the universe they created in ways that resembled an Eastern philosophy-flavored Star Trek more than, say, Blade or Underworld.

That’s not a comment on quality–time has smiled on all four Matrix films much more kindly than most of their contemporaries–but it is a comment on how a classic had transitioned to becoming a big-budget all-encompassing megalith of a property, constantly in danger of losing what was special about the original. This was the subtext of the still-underrated Matrix Resurrections, in fact. But to this day, even the biggest megablockbusters on the planet have failed to even attempt what the Wachowskis pulled off in the wake of Matrix Reloaded to keep its power despite capitalism needing to wring it dry. Ancillary media is nothing new altogether, but before The Matrix Reloaded, anything that didn’t happen on-screen during the film was just a cool, non-canon “what if.” Because the Matrix sequels had such a muted reaction compared to the original, it’s easy to forget just how much of an absolute multimedia circus surrounded The Matrix Reloaded before its release. Sponsorships were everywhere, songs from the soundtrack were ubiquitous on rock radio, books were being written about the philosophy of the original film. All of that was there, and it all only touched the fringes of what The Matrix actually was or where it was going. But The Matrix was far too important and far too intricate to let any serious work bearing its name cheapen it in any way. And so, in the middle of an absolute marketing blitzkrieg, we got two pieces of media that changed how stories could be told in the 21st century.

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