The 1995 film Se7en is based on a plot wherein serial killer John Doe (Kevin Spacey) is choosing victims based on whether they’ve committed one of the seven deadly sins (lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, wrath, and pride). Midway through the film, Detectives Mills (Brad Pitt) and Somerset (Morgan Freeman) detect a pattern in this mysterious string of slayings that suggest the killer’s MO.
In reality, though, John Doe only kills two people for their perceived sins—gluttony and greed. He’d had a kill list planned, but he altered it midway through the movie after Mills and Somerset pinned him as the killer. This is when Doe pivoted and targeted Mills’s pregnant wife, setting himself up to be killed by Mills because Doe had committed the sin of envy for being jealous of Mills’s relatively happy life. In forcing Mills to kill him, Doe implies that Mills had committed the sin of wrath, rounding out the seven deadly sins. Notably, two of Doe’s “victims” survived—those who were guilty of sloth and wrath—although both were so emotionally destroyed, they probably wished they were dead.
Se7en was a tremendous critical and box-office success, raking in over $300 million on a budget of only $33 million. It spent four weeks at the top of the USA box-office charts.
Here are 50 trivia items about this iconic horror classic.
The Origin Story
1. Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker was working as a humble and depressed employee at Tower Records in NYC when it occurred to him that he merely had to walk down the streets of Manhattan to see at least one of the seven deadly sins being committed and he began to imagine a serial killer murdering them.
2. Walker sent his script to a writer friend named David Koepp, who forwarded it to his agent, who found a buyer in New Line Cinema.
3. After reading the script, Koepp reportedly told Walker that he “needed professional help.”
Shooting the Film
4. Director David Fincher says the camerawork was inspired by the TV reality show C.O.P.S., specifically “How the camera is in the backseat peering over people’s shoulder.”
5. While filming the “sloth” victim scene, the actors playing SWAT officers were not informed that the “victim” was a living person rather than a prop corpse. Their startled reaction when the victim coughs is genuine.
6. It took over fourteen hours to do the makeup for the “sloth” victim.
7. For the “greed” scene, Gene Borkan, the actor who plays the victim, was hogtied and wore only underwear for most of the shooting. He was drenched in more than two gallons of fake blood, which was so thick and sticky that his knees became glued to the floor during filming.
8. One of the scenes was shot in LA’s Ambassador Hotel, where Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1968.
9. The film’s dark look was achieved through a process known as “bleach bypass”—when the film was developed, the silver in the film was left intact, which gave everything a brooding, shadowy veneer.
10. Actor Bob Mack, who played the victim in the gluttony scene, wore plugs in his ears and nostrils so that the seven crates of live cockroaches that were poured over him in that scene could not crawl inside these orifices—however, according to Mack, at least one cockroach was able to wriggle inside his underwear.
11. Nearly every scene in the film takes place while it’s raining. This was not intentional; it just happened to be raining while they were filming Brad Pitt’s scenes, because they had to hurry since he’d also been contracted to act in 12 Monkeys (1995).
12. The victim tied to a bed for a year was a very skinny actor who weighed only 90 pounds at the time of filming and wore a set of oversized teeth to make his head look even smaller and more malnourished.
Nearly All of the Violence Happens Offscreen
13. The only murder that is actually shown onscreen is at the end, when Mills shoots John Doe while he’s in police custody.
14. All of the other murders happen offscreen; all the audience sees is the bloody and nauseating aftermath of these murders.
15. Harrison Ford, Al Pacino, William Hurt, Robert Duvall, and Gene Hackman were all considered for the role of William Somerset before Morgan Freeman was cast.
16. Denzel Washington, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin Costner, and Nicolas Cage were all considered for the role of David Mills before Brad Pitt was cast.
17. Actor Ned Beatty and REM singer Michael Stipe were considered for the role of John Doe before Kevin Spacey was cast.
18. Spacey was cast as John Doe only two days before filming began.
19. Although Denzel Washington originally turned down the role of David Mills after deeming the script to be too “dark,” he expressed regret after seeing the finished product. So did Sylvester Stallone.
20. Horror maestro Guillermo del Toro turned down an offer to direct Se7en, claiming that the script’s worldview was too negative for him.
21. David Fincher, who wound up directing Se7en, had only directed one film before—Alien 3 (1992), and he had fought so often with producers on that project that he said, “I thought I’d rather die of colon cancer than do another movie.” Fincher said he agreed to direct Se7en because of the script: “It’s psychologically violent. It implies so much, not about why you did but how you did it.” He called the script a “meditation on evil” instead of a “police procedural.”
22. Director David Fincher said he wanted the credits to look as if a killer had written them.
23. Whereas most film credits run from the bottom to the top of the screen, the ones in Se7en run from the top to the bottom.
Dialogue: “Oof” v. “Fuck”
24. Brad Pitt’s character David Mills says “oof” five times throughout the film.
25. The word “fuck” and all its variants are heard 74 times in the film, mostly being said by David Mills.
William Somerset Maugham
26. Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker named Morgan Freeman’s character “William Somerset” after his favorite writer, W. Somerset Maugham.
27. In one scene, Mills and Somerset discuss W. Somerset Maugham’s novel Of Human Bondage.
28. Se7en was the seventh highest-grossing film of 1995. Coincidence?
29. Every building number in the first scene starts with a 7.
30. The sloth victim is found on a third-floor apartment. Sloth is the third deadly sin.
31. The body count is eight—this includes those attacked for the seven deadly sins as well as a homicide that Somerset was investigating before he teamed up with Mills.
The Dark Ending
32. After an initial reading of the script, director David Fincher highly approved of having the film cut to black after Mills shoots John Doe in the head. Then Fincher’s agent told him he’d been sent the wrong script. The producers felt that audiences wouldn’t like such a dark ending, which would be financially risky.
33. In one alternate ending, it turns out that John Doe did not murder Mills’s wife, but he instead spends the rest of his life in jail.
34. Another alternate ending had a shootout in a burning church in which Mills dies.
35. Yet another alternate ending had Somerset killing Doe.
36. Brad Pitt said he wouldn’t do the movie unless it ended with Mills shooting John Doe in the head. According to Pitt, “With Se7en, I said, ‘I will do it on one condition—the head stays in the box. Put in the contract that the head stays in the box.’ Actually, there was a second thing, too: ‘He’s got to shoot the killer in the end. He doesn’t do the ‘right’ thing, he does the thing of passion.'”
37. When test audiences liked Fincher’s dark ending, producers allowed him to go with it.
38. One concession that Fincher made to producers is that instead of cutting to black after Mills shoots Doe, Somerset is heard reading a solemn quote by Ernest Hemingway.
The Sequel That Never Happened
39. About seven years after the release of Se7en, there was talk of a sequel to be named Ei8ht, in which Somerset acquires psychic powers which enable him to telepathically connect with a serial killer he’s hunting.
40. Director David Fincher said he would rather have a lit cigarette put out on his eyeball than have Se7en’s legacy tarnished with such a trite concept.
41. The idea for Ei8ht instead became a completely different movie called Solace (2015), starring Anthony Hopkins as the psychic.
42. Although there was no film sequel, in 2006 there was a seven-part comic-book series by Zenescope Entertainment based on John Doe’s fixation on the seven deadly sins.
43. Roger Ebert included Se7en on his “Great Movies” list.
44. Entertainment Weekly voted it the eighth scariest film of all time.
45. During the opening credits, John Doe is shown cutting off his fingertips. This explains why he never left fingerprints at a murder scene.
46. During the scene in the rain where Mills (Brad Pitt) is chasing serial killer John Doe (Kevin Spacey), Brad Pitt fell and accidentally smashed his arm through a car windshield. The glass cut through tendons so deeply that bone was visible. Pitt had to wear a cast, and much of the subsequent filming had to be altered so that this injured hand was not visible.
47. During one scene, a camera zooms into a newspaper headline announcing another murder. Other “headlines” on that page include “Housekeeper Held Hostage By Child’s Possessed Gerbil Three Days of Terror” and “Neighbors’ Beagle Scares Teen Cures 8-Year Bout With Hiccups.”
48. At two different points in the film, Mills lists motives that killers give: “Jodie Foster told me to do it” and “My dog told me to do it.” The first was a reference to John Hinckley, Jr., who shot (but did not kill) President Ronald Reagan in 1981 to impress Foster, upon whom he’d formed an unhealthy fixation. The “dog” reference was to David Berkowitz, AKA “Son of Sam,” a NYC-based serial killer who said that his neighbor Sam’s dog was demon-possessed and told him to commit murder.
50. One scene shows the diary notebooks that John Doe kept. These notebooks were actually written and drawn by people who spent two months doing it and were paid $15,000 as a result.