Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Real Reason Tank's Character Was Killed Off In The Matrix

It's far from the biggest difference between the first Matrix movie and the later ones, but fans going back to watch the film that kickstarted the Matrix trilogy have to wonder what happened to Tank

In the universe of the films, the operator of the Nebuchadnezzar died off-screen in between 1999's The Matrix and 2003's The Matrix Reloaded. As the first movie ended with Tank being grievously injured, that story tracked with the series' own internal logic. That's not, however, the real story of why Tank actor Marcus Chong never joined the rest of the cast of The Matrix for the following two films, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. Chong torpedoed his own chances to appear in the following movies in contract negotiations, and has spent the interceding years trying to tell his side of the story via a little-seen documentary and even lesser-read book. 

What we know for sure is that the canonical narrative surrounding Tank's death is a fig leaf to cover up an incredibly complicated beef between The Matrix's producers and Chong. Here's the real reason Tank was killed off in The Matrix franchise.

The actor who played Tank in The Matrix got into a contract dispute, was arrested, and filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros.

Prior to The Matrix, Marcus Chong was an actor on the rise. He had spent most of his life in the entertainment business, appearing in television roles on Roots and Little House on the Prairie and in films like Cheech & Chong's Next Movie, Blood Beach, and American Heart. As an adult, Chong starred as Huey P. Newton in the 1995 movie Panther, before popping up in The Uncontrollable, Fatal Fight, and High Freakquency in the late '90s. It seemed Chong could achieve household name status — or something very close to it — when he landed the role of Tank in The Matrix. Though his performance in the film obviously quite memorable, Chong's career hit an incredibly rough patch after the first Matrix wrapped. 

In May 2003, the same month The Matrix Reloaded hit theaters, Chong filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros. Pictures claiming that The Matrix directors and franchise creators Lana and Lily Wachowski "breached a 1998 verbal agreement and a contract signed in 2000" to bring Tank back for both the second and third Matrix movies (via The Guardian). According to The Guardian, the actor also alleged that the Wachowskis published false claims about him being a terrorist, though that hasn't been corroborated. 

It appears that the reason for the alleged breaching of both the purported verbal agreement and the written contract came about after a heated discussion over Chong's salary for The Matrix. Evidently, Chong wanted much more money than Warner Bros. was willing to pay him for The Matrix Reloaded, which was apparently much less money than his fellow actors received. Photographs from the 2003 lawsuit seen in a documentary Chong himself made detail that Warner Bros. offered the actor $400,000 for both Matrix sequels — $200,000 per film — but Chong wanted to be paid $1 million and receive the same publicity as the film's stars, including Keanu Reeves, Carrie Anne Moss, and Laurence Fishburne. 

Warner Bros. didn't agree to this counteroffer. As reported by People, Chong was arrested on October 18, 2000 — a date supposedly five days following the breakdown in discussion about his salary demands — for allegedly making repeated threats over the phone. He was then written out of The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, according to The Guardian.

In interviews after the fact, and in his 2003 lawsuit, Chong claimed Warner Bros. and the Matrix creative team was intentionally strong-arming him into a bad contract.

"They wanted to starve me out, hold all my money, take all my residuals, not give me any pension credit, not give me any health credit, and I was upset because I had worked for Warner Bros. when I was 10 years old in Roots, so they had a long relationship with me," Chong said in a 2016 interview with I Am So Not Hollywood Radio.

As noted, the sequel negotiations deteriorated to the point that Chong was arrested for allegedly threatening the Wachowskis, something to which he more or less admitted in the same interview. "I called [the Wachowskis] on their voicemail and I said, 'Hey [Lana and Lily], if you send anyone to my home to f****** harm me, I will come and kill you and your [sister]," he said, calling the filmmakers the incorrect names and misgendering them.

Marcus Chong has spent the intervening years burning bridges

Chong's attacks on producers extended well beyond the lawsuit. In the previously mentioned 2018 documentary made by Chong, the actor laid out increasingly unhinged claims against everyone involved in the Matrix movies. He accused Keanu Reeves of theft, said that Warner Bros. tried to force him into signing a non-union contract, and littered his video with transphobic remarks about the Wachowskis. 

Hollywood press doesn't paint the one Matrix movie on which Chong worked as a cake walk, either. Speaking with Entertainment Weekly (via E! Online), Chong is said to have owned up to "crashing a press junket, snatching food from production offices, and crank-yanking the Wachowskis" during his time working on The Matrix

Given that, it's easy to see why he hasn't worked much since his casting in The Matrix Reloaded fell through. Where Chong sees a conspiracy to blackball him, it might be more likely that people saw his arrest, public pot-stirring, and lawsuit, and decided that hiring him wasn't worth the hassle.