Brad Pitt’s Decision to Pass on ‘The Matrix’ Cost Him $250 Million

Everything about The Matrix’s success was never bound to happen. The legendary franchise was the Wachowski sisters’ brainchild, who only had one film beneath them before getting this one off the ground. The result was one of the biggest action franchises of all time. It not only changed action movies forever but helped boost an already famous Keanu Reeves into Hollywood superstardom. Reeves’ iconic turn as Neo almost looked much different, however. When Brad Pitt passed on the role, he lost himself a lot of money in the process, too. 

Brad Pitt smiling, leaning on a table
Brad Pitt | Valerie Macon/Getty Images

Pitt’s career

Pitt didn’t necessarily need The Matrix to have a promising career. He started as a television actor in the 1980s, according to IMDb, where he appeared on hit shows like Dallas, Growing Pains, and 21 Jump Street. However, after turning heads as the attractive, young love interest in Thelma and Louise, a heartthrob was born. Before long, Pitt headlined massively successful films and took smaller roles in other films.

From Interview with the Vampire to True Romance and Kalifornia, Pitt worked with some of the biggest names in show business almost immediately. However, around the mid-1990s, he began to take on roles that required more skill than his legendary good looks. Se7en and 12 Monkeys showed that Pitt had the charisma to take on more complex parts. After 1999’s Fight Club, however, Pitt was officially at the top of his game. 

Twenty years onward, he is still a Hollywood power player garnering Oscar wins and wide acclaim for his roles in hit movies such as Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Not only has he made a name in front of the camera, but his career as a producer has garnered him much acclaim and even more money. However, one mistake in the 1990s may have cost him on both these fronts, although The Matrix movies may have been better for it. 

Passing on the role

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Like Will Smith, Pitt was sought after due to his star power in the late 1990s. However, when producers contacted his people about the role, something didn’t sit right. This caused Pitt to do the unthinkable and pass on a part that could have changed his career forever. He spoke about it with USA Today

“I did pass on The Matrix. I took the red pill,” Pitt explained to USA Today. “That’s the only one I’m naming … I wasn’t offered two or three. Only the first one. Just to clarify that. I come from a place, maybe it’s my upbringing, if I didn’t get it, then it wasn’t mine. I really believe [the role] was never mine. It’s not mine. It was someone else’s and they go and make it. I really do believe in that. If we were doing a show on the great movies I’ve passed on, we would need two nights.”

The movie may have been entirely different with Pitt instead of Reeves. The two personas could not be any different. Had the film’s success lasted through this potential change. However, Pitt would have made a lot of money by stretching out of his comfort zone.

Pitt loses money

Thanks to the Matrix’s enormous success combined with Reeves’ revenue share from its success, it is one of the most lucrative films in history for an actor. Reeves made over $80 million per movie by gambling on the Wachowski’s passion project, and his career in action remains strong to this day. Over the course of the series, Reeves became one of the highest-paid actors of all time, earning about $250 million for the role, according to Business Insider. Pitt has had his success, and his decision didn’t end up sending him to the poorhouse. However, his story shows how quickly one decision in Hollywood can change someone’s life forever. 

Reeves, on the other hand, is currently filming the fourth entry to the franchise that brought him into superstardom.