Daniel Fierman
May 16, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

”I’m not supposed to show this to you. But f — – ’em.” * Joel Silver is a bearded, giggly man. When he’s excited, his knees bounce, his voice rises, and curses tumble out pell-mell. And here, frantically searching his gleaming office on Warner Bros.’ Burbank lot for a certain set of facts and figures that will demonstrate just how big The Matrix Reloaded is going to be, his body is a dervish of small movements. After some scrounging, he locates his eyeglasses and peers at papers spread across a desk. * ”There, see!” says the producer, jabbing a thick finger at columns of numbers. ”Look at that! As of Monday, April 28, there’s 95 percent awareness of the movie. And it opens in three weeks! There’s 89 percent definite interest. Those numbers are unheard of! Spider-Man at this date was the first choice of 21 percent of moviegoers. We’re 30. Already! When these numbers hit, on that phone” — he stops to finally take a breath and wave a hand over an unholy array of extensions — ”all the f — -in’ bells went off with people saying that it’s the highest tracking ever seen! It’s going to be huge!”

Please. As if we needed Joel Silver and his fancy facts and figures to tell us that.

The Matrix is the most influential action movie of its generation. This is not hyperbole. It isn’t even a stretch. The story — in a future where machines have enslaved humans in a virtual reality called the Matrix, a hacker named Neo discovers that his destiny is to lead the resistance — had seismic impact. And since the movie’s release in March 1999, every 360-degree sweep of a camera, every black-clad hero, every sexy yet deadly heroine, every bullet rippling slowly through the air, is a rip-off that can be traced back to writer-directors Andy and Larry Wachowski. They made Carrie-Anne Moss. (”I had no career before,” says the actress. ”None.”) They inspired the most slavish fan worship this side of Star Wars. They triggered countless pale imitations and dull-witted parodies. They were hailed as geniuses, and for a brief, mad moment, they were even blamed for the shootings at Columbine High School.

”Larry and Andrew shared some of their e-mails and showed me how it was being discussed on the Internet,” says star Keanu Reeves. ”That’s where I started to see [how big the movie was], which was a ways after it came out.”

”Oh, God, it was everywhere,” laughs Laurence Fishburne, who plays Morpheus, a leader of the human rebels. ”You just think about the concept of Bulletproof Monk. And The One. Remember that movie? Jet Li is…THE ONE!” Says Moss, who plays Neo’s tough girlfriend, Trinity: ”Every once in a while I’ll go, ‘Wow! I’m like the girl hero, right? You know, in a really important movie!’ to a friend or my husband [actor Steven Roy] and they’ll say, ‘Yeah!’ Of course, right now” — she pats her six months’ pregnant belly — ”I’m just amazed I ever fit into that costume.” To no one’s surprise, the Wachowskis’ encore — two sequels, The Matrix Reloaded (opening May 15) and The Matrix Revolutions (Nov. 7) — instantly became the most anticipated movies of 2003.

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