May 19, 2003 -- Could the The Matrix movie phenomenon really inspire violent or mentally disturbed individuals to act out sadistic fantasies?
The Matrix Reloaded made Hollywood history this weekend when it took in $93.3 million at the box office, generating the highest-grossing R-rated opening ever.
Meanwhile, the original film, The Matrix, which inspired the sequel, has been linked to several violent crimes over the past four years.
The plot of the film, which blurs the line between reality and fantasy, is that computers have taken over the Earth, leaving some humans existing in a computer-simulated world where they battle for survival.
When Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold attacked Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, killing 13 people and themselves, investigators said the killers evoked Neo, Keanu Reeves' character in The Matrix.
The two teens were known for wearing long black trench coats similar to the one "Neo" wears in the film and for calling themselves the trench coat mafia.
The Movie Defense
Attorneys for a 19-year-old who shot his parents to death last February claim he was obsessed with The Matrix.
Josh Cooke, of Oakton, Va., shot his parents with a 12-gauge shotgun that was similar to one of the weapons "Neo" uses in the film.
Cooke wore a trench coat, had a huge poster from the film in his room and even believed he lived inside The Matrix, his defense attorney, Rachel Fierro, has argued.
Lee Malvo, one of the accused Washington-area snipers, is said to have been obsessed with the world of blurred realities and mind control portrayed in The Matrix as well.
A note written by 18-year-old Malvo in jail reads: "Free yourself of The Matrix."
University of Wisconsin communications professor Joanne Cantor says there have been other murder cases in which criminals referenced other violent films, but the professor says perpetrators who reference The Matrix tend to provide many more details from the film.
"I think all violent movies have some tendency to encourage violence in particularly susceptible individuals," Cantor said on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America. "This movie, I think, has an extra component of the blurring between fantasy and reality," she said.
It's not known if The Matrix will form part of Malvo's defense, but the defense has been used successfully in a few murder cases across the country.
Vadim Mieseges, 27, of San Francisco dismembered his landlady without provocation three years ago. He told police he did it after he had been "sucked into The Matrix." A judge accepted his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
Tonda Lynn Ansley of Hamilton, Ohio, made references to the film after she was arrested in the July 2002 fatal shooting of Sherry Corbett, 55, a Miami University professor whose house she had been renting.
Ansley's statement to police made reference to the The Matrix as she suggested that she was drugged to make her think the things she envisioned were dreams.
"They commit a lot of crimes in The Matrix. That's where you go to sleep at night and they drug you and take you somewhere else and then they bring you back and put you in bed and, when you wake up, you think that it's a bad dream," she told police.
A judge ruled that Ansley was innocent by reason of insanity last week at a pretrial hearing.
Warner Bros. Pictures, which released the sequel to The Matrix this week, said there is no connection between the movie and the killings. In a statement, the studio expressed condolences to the victims of violent crimes.