The Matrix was a groundbreaking film from two relatively unknown directors that revolutionized sci-fi action films. The film was extraordinary, combining visual spectacle with deep philosophical concepts and thought-provoking ideas. However, many viewers wonder: is The Matrix based on a book?
The Matrix is not based on a book or, more precisely, a published book. The Matrix was initially conceived as a comic book, and the film’s creators–the Wachowskis–hired artists to create a graphic novel based on their idea. The graphic novel was never released and later got turned into a movie.
In this article, I’ll give you a detailed tour of how the Wachowskis originally came up with the idea for the Matrix, why they commissioned artists to create a graphic novel, and how it eventually got released on the big screen. Following this, I’ve also highlighted some books that influenced The Matrix, which you might consider reading.
The Matrix Is Based on an Unpublished Graphic Novel
The Matrix was originally envisioned as a graphic novel rather than a movie.
Believe it or not, the Wachowskis started out their careers working as comic book writers. As such, when they were formulating the world and plot for The Matrix, they originally envisioned it as a comic book.
They began working on The Matrix by jotting down their ideas in notebooks, which eventually transpired into a script.
But once they had the script, the Wachowskis felt that they had their hands on something big that deserved a bigger mainstream release. And so, the idea for The Matrix movie came into motion.
That said, the budding filmmakers weren’t so sure that the big heads at Warner Bros–or any Hollywood studio–would understand or get behind the film just by reading the script. After all, their idea is so distinctly stylized and visually unique that it can be challenging for anyone to envision the world that The Matrix proposes just by reading a mere script.
And so they hired two cartoonist friends, Steve Skroce and Geof Darrow, to turn The Matrix script into a visual storyboard.
The venture resulted in a 600-page scene-by-scene visual depiction of the script.
This “gigantic comic book,” as Larry Wachowski would like to call it, was pitched to the studio, and they loved it so much that they green-lit the project. The movie was virtually identical to this graphic novel.
Unfortunately, the 600-page The Matrix comic book was never published.
Books That Inspired the Matrix
The Matrix is rich in substance, dealing with thought-provoking questions like the nature of reality, ideas of spiritualism, Buddhism, biblical metaphors, the relation between man & machine, and so much more.
The Wachowskis read a lot of books & graphic novels and watched tons of films, including anime, before the core concept of The Matrix manifested in their minds. As such, it’s almost impossible to jot down a list of books that inspired, influenced, and led to the creation of The Matrix.
However, a few books offer close enough resemblance to The Matrix–either in theme or the plot–that one can assume to have consciously influenced the sci-fi sensation.
Here are three books that inspired The Matrix in tangible ways you can correlate to by watching the film:
Let’s take a quick look at how these books influenced and inspired The Matrix.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
The Wachowskis have publicly stated that films made by Ridley Scott and other directors have heavily influenced the making of The Matrix.
One such film is the 1982 sci-fi cult classic Blade Runner, which portrays a post-apocalyptic dystopian future where humans enslave human-like machines (androids). Now, Blade Runner is actually based on Phillip K. Dick’s 1968 novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”
Naturally, it isn’t a big stretch to conclude that the Wachowskis were influenced by this novel, although they haven’t explicitly cited it as an inspiration.
In the novel, the line between humans and androids is blurred to the extent that it’s difficult to distinguish between man and machine. As such, the novel explores the philosophical question: what does it mean to be a human? What makes humans different from machines, or more specifically, AI (artificial intelligence)?
Similarly, The Matrix also fondles the questions: what is reality? How can you distinguish between reality and simulation?
The idea that the things we take for granted–the world that we are so sure of–might not be what we think it is runs deep into the DNA of both works.
The Matrix is a cyberpunk film, and as such, it is almost impossible for it not to draw inspiration from one of the earliest novels that started the genre: Neuromancer (released in 1984).
For instance, Neuromancer was the first sci-fi novel that used the word “Matrix” to define a virtual reality dataspace. This is a concept that became the backbone and the namesake for the 1999 Wachowski film.
Similarly, you can find the Wachowskis paying homage to the cyberpunk classic by calling the last human city “Zion.” In Neuromancer, Zion is a space settlement pivotal to the plot.
It’s also worth noting that both Matrix and Neuromancer have a protagonist who is a hacker by profession, and he “hacks” into the Matrix dataspace.
Besides this, both works have many parallels regarding the overall ambiance and aesthetic. As such, it’s easy to see how Neuromancer heavily inspired the Wachowskis to create the Matrix.
Simulacron-3 (released in 1964) is one of the first sci-fi novels that explores the idea of simulated virtual reality and its consequences.
In the story, a scientist has developed a computer-generated city. Inside this virtual world, there are computer-generated people who have their own consciousness.
They think they are alive and living beings, except for one individual who realizes that he and everyone else around him are nothing more than electronic impulses inside a computer.
As you can see, the simulated world in Simulacron-3 closely resembles the virtual world of The Matrix, where people are unaware that they’re inside a simulation except for a few who are striving to “wake up” and also help others to wake up.
The Matrix is not based on a published book. The Wachowskis originally jotted down the idea for the film into a script and later commissioned cartoonists to turn the script into a visual storyboard.
This led to the creation of a 600-page graphic novel that offers a scene-by-scene depiction of The Matrix script.
The graphic novel helped pitch the idea to Warner Bros. executives, which eventually got the movie green-lit. The movie is virtually identical to the graphic novel.