The Matrix is known for popularizing a visual effect known as "bullet time", in which the heightened perception of certain characters is represented by allowing the action within a shot to progress in slow-motion while the camera's viewpoint appears to move through the scene at normal speed. The film is an example of the cyberpunk subgenre. It contains numerous references to philosophical and religious ideas, and prominently pays homage to works such as Plato's Allegory of the Cave, Jean Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation and Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The Wachowskis' approach to action scenes drew upon their admiration for Japanese animation and martial arts films, and the film's use of fight choreographers and wire fu techniques from Hong Kong action cinema influenced subsequent Hollywood action film productions.
The Matrix was first released in the United States on March 31, 1999, and grossed over $460 million worldwide. It was well-received by critics and won four Academy Awards, as well as other accolades, including BAFTA Awards and Saturn Awards. Reviewers praised The Matrix for its innovative visual effects, cinematography and entertainment value. The film has since appeared in lists of the greatest science fiction films, and, in 2012, was added to the National Film Registry for preservation. The success of the film led to the release of two feature film sequels, both written and directed by the Wachowskis: The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. The Matrix franchise was further expanded through the production of comic books, video games and animated short films, in which the Wachowskis were heavily involved, and even inspired books and theories on ideas in religion and philosophy.
Trinity, an infamous hacker, is cornered by police in an abandoned hotel. She overpowers them with superhuman abilities, but a group of sinister superhuman black-suited Agents lead the police in a rooftop pursuit. She answers a ringing public telephone and vanishes.
Computer programmer Thomas Anderson lives a double life under the hacker alias "Neo". He believes something is wrong with the world and is puzzled by repeated online encounters with the cryptic phrase "the Matrix". Trinity contacts him, saying that a man named Morpheus can explain its meaning; however, the Agents, led by Agent Smith, apprehend Neo at his office and attempt to get a plea bargain out of Neo in exchange for helping them capture Morpheus, whom they call a terrorist. Undeterred, Neo meets Morpheus, who offers him a choice between a red pill, which will allow him to learn the truth about the Matrix, and a blue pill, which will return him to his former life. After swallowing the red pill, Neo's reality disintegrates and he awakens, naked and weak, in a liquid-filled pod, one of countless people connected by cables to an elaborate electrical system. He is rescued and brought aboard Morpheus' hovercraft, the Nebuchadnezzar.
Morpheus explains that, in the early 21st century, intelligent machines waged a war against the humans that created them. When humans blocked the machines' access to solar energy, the machines retaliated by harvesting the humans' bioelectricity for power. The Matrix is a shared simulation of the world as it was in 1999 in which the minds of the harvested humans are trapped and pacified; Neo had lived in it since birth. Morpheus and his crew belong to a group of rebels who hack into the Matrix and "unplug" enslaved humans, recruiting them as rebels. The rebels' understanding of the simulated reality allows them to bend its physical laws, granting them superhuman abilities. Morpheus warns Neo that fatal injuries within the Matrix also kill one's physical body, and that the Agents are powerful sentient programs that eliminate threats to the system. Neo's skill during virtual combat training lends credence to Morpheus' belief that Neo is "the One", an especially powerful man prophesied to lead the insurrection of enslaved humans against the machines.