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In researching why so many people dislike the Matrix sequels, I've noticed a lot of them citing the idea that they were only made because of the success of the first movie as reason why "the plot sucks and is full of holes."

tl;dr: Were the sequels just made up due to the success of the first movie?

I, on the other hand, have always been of the belief that they were planned, but their creation was contingent upon the success of the first film. In other words, the Wachowskis created the full storyline, but did the first movie in such a way that it could stand on its own just in case the first movie failed. This idea, I believe, preserves in my mind some kind of intellectual integrity of the films; that the ideas present in the sequels would feel very cheesy and weak if they were just made up for a couple sequels--that there would be no intellectual depth or meaning to them. I like to tackle the ideas in the Trilogy as one film--this concept helps in that matter. But I've digressed a bit...

So, were the sequels just made up due to the success of the first movie?

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    Well, if you believe Sophia Stewart, she came up with the ideas for The Matrix... and The Terminator. – phantom42 Jun 14 '13 at 18:14
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    I don't recall where I heard this so I can't cite - maybe it was the Matrix Revisited DVD - but according to the bros W, the whole trilogy was written, and supposedly the second movie was supposed to be like The Matrix "Squared" and the third one "Cubed" (with regards to how much more awesome they were supposed to be). Also, they did a short film "Bound" before the Matrix which was presented as a kind of way to "break in" to the industry so they could do The Matrix, which they already had written. – user11521 Jun 14 '13 at 21:28
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    @Michael Yes, I believe you're referring to the Matrix commentary thing. It's on the blu-ray trilogy, so I've seen it as well. That confirms my understanding of it, but that then raises the question of whether or not they had changed anything when they were finally ready to make the sequels. It was a while before they got to do the sequels. They may have made some intermediate changes. – Megacannon Jun 14 '13 at 21:47
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    @Megacannon Given where that interview/commentary is, it also raises the question of whether or not they did a George Lucas with their memory – Izkata Jun 15 '13 at 0:46
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    I never even bothered watching the 3rd one, but going by the whole "squared"/"cubed" thing, Matrix Reloaded should have been called "√Matrix" – phantom42 Jun 15 '13 at 12:50
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While the Wachowskis may have had plans for the sequels before the first film was made, the first film's development process likely worked against them.

The first Matrix film had approximately five years of development, during which the script changed, notably becoming more and more self-contained and less open ended - note that it was written back when Hollywood believed firmly in standalone movies, rather than serialized films that could launch franchises.

Earlier drafts from 1996 and 1997, which are available on the web, do not feature Neo actually becoming the One at the end of the first movie, signifying that this would've been a development that would take place over the course of the sequels.

Rather, Neo comes back to life after being shot and escapes, leaving Agent Smith alive to fight another day. (In the '96 draft, he even shows him the finger before porting back to the real world.)

Finally, Neo's last phone call suggests he has evolved but not become a God-like being, as in the actual film. He promises the agents that he will 'make some changes' rather than outright show humanity that they live in a false reality, leaving it ambiguous as to what the future will hold.

Most likely then, if the Wachowskis really did have a three-film plan back in the 90s (and note that the creative process is fluid, from script to production to post), then Neo’s journey to fully awaken would’ve been the main focus of the trilogy. So this plan would’ve had to change to accommodate Neo becoming The One at the end of the first film.

The concept of Neo’s predecessors was actually conceived in the context of the first film but was radically different. Early drafts, all the way up to the shooting script, had a subplot, wherein Cipher told Neo that he had 5 predecessors – normal people, whom Morpheus convinced were “The One,” leading them to die fighting an Agent.

Neo later discusses this with Morpheus before they see the Oracle – Morpheus confesses that he misread the prophecy, believing that all he had to do was pick someone – and that person would be the One. He knows Neo is an exception, for Neo sought him out first.

The scene, where Cipher tells Neo about this, was confirmed to have been shot but excised from the final cut in The Art of the Matrix.

This indicates that the Wachowskis never planned for Zion to have been destroyed five or six times prior to Neo’s becoming the One. That is, Neo did not have six Ones before him when the first film was made.

Supporting this is an interview in American Cinematographer Vol. 80 (April 1999), the Wachowskis and Bill Pope firmly state that the film takes place in 2197 and reiterate the backstory provided by Morpheus in the film, which is directly contradicted in the sequels.

My educated guess: in order to get the first film made (its success was not a guarantee), the Wachowskis must’ve needed to make it enclosed and not bank on continuing the story in sequels. So, if the film were a commercial dud, which I’m sure a lot of people expected, it would be a good one-off. Once it became a hit and sequels became a probable reality, the Wachowskis had to open the first film’s plot back up retroactively. Which is why the sequel story is full of holes and contradictions.

Production issues also notably affected the sequels.

The Wachowskis had a falling out with Marcus Chong, who played Tank, over his fee, leading them to write him out. Ostensibly, Tank died off-screen between the two films, even though he was in good condition when last seen in the first movie. [Note that Tank isn’t even mentioned by name in Reloaded, despite being a prominent secondary character in the last film and a more significant one than Dozer.] We can infer from this that the character of Link (Harold Perrineau) had to be created in order to fulfill the role that Tank would’ve originally occupied.

Gloria Foster’s death also necessitated recasting Oracle for Revolutions, meaning that a new subplot had to be created, wherein The Oracle has taken up a different form.

All in all, there is a considerable difference between what is ‘planned’ and what ends up on screen. No matter what Joel Silver and others claims, the sequels, in the form they are in now, were never planned – and they were not written when the first film was released and they, like all movies, evolved during production and editing.

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    This is a good answer, +1. It would be nice if you linked to the earlier draft scripts "which are available on the web", though. – Null Sep 9 '16 at 15:29
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I found an article from The Guardian (UK newspaper) which states that "we were told" the trilogy was always planned as a trilogy.

However, the Wachowskis could always have been lying -- saying "we always planned for more than one movie" had already become a trite way for a filmmaker to try to fight the jaded, "sequels always suck" mentality of the movie-going public.

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Uh oh. Looks like I get the pleasure of answering my own question. See the post by tronmaster in this thread.

http://forum.dvdtalk.com/archive/t-294040.html

I'll quote him here...

The Matrix was thought up as a trilogy....quote from Entertainment Weekly Issue 485, May 14, 1999...."Di Bonaventura (president of production) says the Wachowskis 'originally viewed this [The Matrix] as a trilogy - I never used the word sequel.'"

Also see Entertainment Weekly Issue 480, April 9, 1999 (the week The Matrix actually came out before it became a hit)...."brothers were asking to direct a script of theirs that Warner Bros. had also [Bound being the first] bought in 1994. Intended to be the FIRST of a SCI-FI TRILOGY, The Matrix........."Exhausted by the movie's five-year odyssey to the screen, the brothers say they're trying not to think about the SECOND and THIRD installments that could follow if The Matrix is a box office success".....

OK, I'm tired of hearing a George Lucas when they talk about a trilogy to The Matrix.

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