Did Keanu Reeves Really Give Away $80 Million To The Special Effects And Design Crew Of ‘The Matrix’?

Variety Studio Presented By Moroccanoil At Holt Renfrew - Day 4 - 2013 Toronto International Film Festival
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One of the most popular urban myths on the Internet is that Keanu Reeves once gave away millions and million of dollars from his Matrix earnings to the special effects and makeup crew on that trilogy. If you check out Reddit, it’s one of the most frequently reposted stories ever. See, e.g., here, here, here, here, and here. Some stories say he gave away $35 million, others say $100 million, and still others say that he gave away $125 million, or even his entire earnings from the trilogy. The exact figure is all over the place.

It’s a story that’s gained so much momentum on the Internet that it’s practically become fact. Just Google it, and there are countless stories about the fact that he cares about money so little that he’d just give it away. It’s a great story, and it reveals about Keanu Reeves everything that we want to believe about him.

There’s just one problem. It’s not true.

Well, it’s not completely true.

Yes, Keanu Reeves is a very generous person. He started a cancer foundation after his sister got leukemia. He donates to PETA. He will even give up his subway seat. But he didn’t give away $100 million to the crew of The Matrix.

So, how did this story begin? If you wade through enough of these urban legend stories, you’ll find an ABC News story reporting on a Wall Street Journal article saying he created “a sizeable back-end deal” giving up his “profit-sharing points to the franchise’s special-effects and costume-design team.”

How much is that worth? We don’t know, but it’s likely nowhere near the $35 million, or $80 million, or $125 million that some outlets have reported. In fact, according to a costume designer on the film, Kym Barrett, she’s never received any checks from Reeves. From a Fox News interview with Barrett:

I mean, he’s very nice. He plays with my kids. We love working with him, but no, no checks,” she laughed.

Was there anyone who’d gotten this money as described in breathless reports?

“No one I know of,” she said.

As Roger Friedman explained, Keanu Reeves never wrote a personal check to anyone. The back-end deal basically put some of his money back into the franchise to ensure that the special effects and costume crew could continue working on the franchise for the duration of the trilogy. It’s more akin to what Keanu did on The Devil’s Advocate and The Replacements, which was to give up part of his asking price so that the studio could afford to hire Al Pacino and Gene Hackman in those respective films.

So yes, it is true that Keanu Reeves is incredibly generous, but no, he’s not that generous.