The Comic Book Movie Without a Comic Book

As we all know, the modern comic book movie explosion happened after X-Men and Spider-Man both hit big, leading to a rush to mine all sorts of graphic material for gold. In fact, the boom has had such a major effect on studio thinking that some filmmakers have had to turn their ideas into comic books before being able to pitch them seriously,  simply so the words “adapted from the graphic novel” have a chance to appear on screen.

However, The Wachowskis’ The Matrix was a comic book movie born without a comic book. The directing pair originally envisioned the story as a graphic novel that included all the Kung Fu fighting and science fiction excellence for which every man, woman and child yearns. They wanted to do live-action anime, appreciating the ability of both comics and animation to, you guessed it, slow down action and show it in different ways.

In proving they could handle the project as a film, they first turned to Joel Silver, who wanted them to prove they could direct. Instead of greenlighting The Matrix, he gave the go-ahead (and $6m) for them to direct the thriller Bound. When it was a success, they earned their spot in the chair, but it would still take convincing the studio. In order to do that, they of course turned back to the comic book world and hired artists Geof Darrow and Steve Skroce to ink a 600-page storyboard with every shot of the movie.

Warners still wasn’t keen on handing over an $80m budget to young filmmakers. Instead, the studio gave them $10m, and they used it to shoot the opening sequence with Trinity escaping from the police. The studio was blown away, and The Matrix was on track.

There are a thousand fascinating things about the movie and its origins. With its roots in Eastern and Western philosophy, technology, Descartes’ Evil Genius, Baurdillard’s “Simulation and Simulacra,” and a hundred other reference points, it has a lot of birthplaces. It also took a six million dollar test, a ten million dollar test, and a comic book idea without a comic book to make the movie a reality.

And when it became a hit, what do you think they turned it into?

The Matrix Comic Book


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