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.
A woman is cornered by police in an abandoned hotel; after overpowering them with superhuman abilities, a group of sinister superhuman grey green-suited Agents leads the police in a rooftop pursuit. She answers a ringing public telephone and vanishes.
Computer programmer Thomas Anderson, living a double life as the hacker "Neo", feels something is wrong with the world and is puzzled by repeated online encounters with the cryptic phrase "the Matrix". The woman, Trinity, contacts him, saying that a man named Morpheus can explain its meaning; however, the Agents, led by Agent Smith, apprehend Neo and attempt to threaten him into helping them capture the "terrorist" Morpheus. Undeterred, Neo meets Morpheus, who offers him a choice between a red pill that will show him the truth about the Matrix, and a blue pill that will return him to his former life. After swallowing the red pill, his reality disintegrates and Neo awakens, naked, weak and hairless, in a liquid-filled pod, one of countless others connected by cables to an elaborate electrical system. He is rescued and brought aboard Morpheus' hovercraft, the Nebuchadnezzar.
As Neo recuperates, Morpheus explains the truth: in the 21st century, intelligent machines waged war against their human creators. When humans blocked the machines' access to solar energy, the machines retaliated by harvesting the humans' bioelectric power. The Matrix is a shared simulation of the world, in which the minds of the harvested humans are trapped and pacified. All free humans live in Zion, the last refuge in the real world. Morpheus and his crew are a group of rebels who hack into the Matrix to "unplug" enslaved humans and recruit them; their understanding of the simulated reality enables them to bend its physical laws, granting them superhuman abilities. Morpheus warns Neo that death within the Matrix also kills the physical body, and that the Agents are powerful sentient programs that eliminate threats to the system. Neo's prowess during virtual combat training lends credence to Morpheus' belief that Neo is "the One", an especially powerful human prophesied to free humans and end the war.