Does Will Smith Regret Turning Down the Matrix?

The decisions A-list stars make in their careers can sometimes shape their thinking patterns on what they do next and perhaps how competitive they become later. We’ve always seen Will Smith as an overly boisterous and competitive talent who usually lived up to the hype. Even if he’s having his share of box office disappointments now, you have to wonder what trajectory he’d be on today had he taken one pivotal role.

Will Smith attends Variety's Creative Impact Awards.
Will Smith | Jerod Harris/Getty Images

Fans recently learned Smith turned down The Matrix back in the late 1990s, just when he was riding high with his first major movie successes. He still seems to regret his decision, but we can’t help wondering how different it would have made his film career. Would it really have made any difference, or would he be having a renaissance like Keanu Reeves is enjoying now?

Do we know why Smith turned down ‘The Matrix’ in 1998?

Earlier this year, Smith put together a video on his YouTube channel explaining why he didn’t take The Matrix when the Wachowskis pitched it to him. At the time, Smith recalled how he was riding high and thinking he could do no wrong. After several major box office successes and being on a hit TV show (Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), making decisions likely became skewed to reality.

Maybe you can blame the Wachowskis to some degree since the pitch they gave to Smith was a bit out there. When they described the film to Smith, they talked about the bullet time camera effect they were expanding on for the fight scenes. Smith reenacted the pitch, and it sounded like the Wachowskis had imbibed a little beforehand.

If their pitch was truly that kooky, then no wonder Smith turned it down. Even then, you’d think the pitch for Wild, Wild West would have been even stranger. Because his judgment was probably clouded a bit, we all know Smith chose to do the latter film instead.

To this day, he wishes he would have told himself to at least not do Wild Wild West. What’s most interesting is Smith might not have taken The Matrix anyway for one specific reason.

Morpheus was made for Laurence Fishburne

While Neo being played by Smith would have been groundbreaking on its own, it would have meant Morpheus being someone else, as in Val Kilmer. Smith confirmed this in his above video, which still could have been great, but would have fazed out Fishburne winning the part of Morpheus later.

Looking back in hindsight, we see Smith maybe wouldn’t have taken The Matrix anyway if he had a second chance based solely on Fishburne’s role. Sure, we know Smith would have done something else other than Wild, Wild West. It might have meant him doing something completely different to keep him on his box office streak.

Who’s to say maybe the Wachowskis wouldn’t have agreed to have both Smith and Fishburne work together, though? Imagining such a lineup is beyond alt-reality, yet you never know what could have worked out.

At least Smith acknowledges Reeves was perfect as Neo. Because of that role, Reeves is now on a renewed hot streak.

Can Will Smith find a new renaissance like Keanu Reeves?

Let’s not forget Reeves found himself in a similar situation to Smith about a decade ago. After a number of box office flops, none of the studios would even hire Reeves, leading him to take roles in small, indie fare for a number of years.

Only within the last year has Reeves found his groove again and being hired for virtually everything, including signing up for Matrix 4. At least Smith is still being hired by the major studios, if maybe not lasting if he keeps flopping with his latest movies.

Nevertheless, Smith will find his renaissance eventually, maybe sooner than Reeves did. One thing worth noting is The Matrix could have created a stereotype for Smith, making things even worse in the long run.

As much as we think he’d alter his career history, the timeline he created was probably better when you add up the sum of parts.