It's been nearly 23 years since David Fincher's seminal thriller SE7EN first hit the big screen. Since its release, the movie has encapsulated audiences with its dark, gritty story of two detectives and their pursuit of a madman. With masterful performances from Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, and Gwyneth Paltrow, SE7EN has kept viewers coming back for repeat viewings in the years since.
The premise is simple enough: two detectives are in pursuit of a serial criminal. But, for those who know the movie, it's anything but straight forward. The element of using the seven sins as motivation helps to add a level of complexity that arguably has not been matched in years since. The film is an emotional roller coaster that still packs a punch even today.
The movie is interesting enough on the surface, but a lot of what makes it that way is what happened off camera. Whether they were creative decisions made in pre-production, post-production, or during filming, they all resulted in the movie we know and love today.
If, for whatever reason, you haven't seen this movie, stop what you're doing and give it a watch because we're going to take a fairly deep dive into things.
With that in mind, here are 15 Awesome Facts You Didn't Know About SE7EN.
15 The Requirements Of Some Of The Victims
Contrary to what we’ve learned from reality TV, being a Hollywood actor or actress isn’t always a cushy gig. In the case of SE7EN, some of John Doe’s victims had some pretty unpleasant requirements to meet.
The victim of Sloth, played by Michael Reid MacKay, was cast after meeting the role’s two main demands: having a very small frame and being able to lay down for long periods of time. At only 98 pounds, MacKay underwent over 14 hours of prosthetic application to get the look the production team was after.
Gene Borkan, who played the victim of Greed, didn’t have it much better. The actor was covered in fake liquids for so long that he actually got stuck to the floor of his character’s office.
14 There’s Really Only One Surprising Scene
Looking back on SE7EN, nobody could really fault you for describing it as a violent movie. John Doe’s victims are left in a truly gruesome state. We’ve already talked about Greed and Sloth’s demises, but take a second to think about the victim of Lust’s fate.
But none of the violence that Kevin Spacey’s John Doe inflicts upon his victims happens on screen.
All we see, as an audience, is the aftermath of John’s behavior. Much like in Psycho’s famous shower scene, David Fincher and the production team rely on implied violence, letting the audience fill in the blanks. The only scene really depicting anything gruesome is John Doe’s fate at the hand of Brad Pitt’s Detective David Mills.
13 You’ve Seen The Library Set A Few Times Before
Hollywood production teams can be pretty resourceful. Whether it be in the computer-generated or practical realms, there doesn’t seem to be anything that a dedicated team can’t piece together in the name of their film.
One case of resourcefulness in SE7EN surrounded the library in which Morgan Freeman’s Detective Lieutenant William Somerset conducts much of his research. Unable to find an already-made library with an aesthetic that fit the film, the production team sought about repurposing a bank set.
While the task of completely reconstructing and furnishing a set that large would be cool on its own, the real interesting bit is the movie the set was in prior to that. Just one year before the release of Se7en, you could see Jim Carrey attempting to rob the place blind in 1994’s The Mask.
12 Brad Pitt’s Real-Life Injury
Depicted injuries aside, Brad Pitt suffered a very real injury during SE7EN’s filming. During a chase scene, Pitt cut himself on a car windshield while running across.
While he was able to finish the scene, later shots in the movie called for some tricky camera work.
Because Pitt’s arm was in a cast, several of the shots required some extra effort on the camera crew’s part. The production team wrote Pitt’s injury into the shots that followed the car chase, meaning Mills could wear a cast too without wrecking the film’s continuity.
Those shots that ultimately appeared on screen before the chase, like in the police station, saw Mills with his left hand in his pocket, trying to conceal the cast.
11 The Cast And Crew’s Thoughts On A Sequel
Unnecessary sequels aren’t a new concept in Hollywood - as an example, there are 19 Amityville Horror movies. The critical and commercial success of SE7EN meant that studio executives were eager to try and capitalize on it.
Although the film ends somewhat openly, with Mills left to process the fate of John Doe, none of those involved were keen to reopen the story. A rumored sequel involved Mills confined to a mental institution, though Brad Pitt had no intention of reprising his role.
Most outspoken against the idea of a Se7en sequel was director David Fincher, who when asked, stated "I would have less interest in that than I would in having cigarettes put out in my eyes." Doesn’t get much clearer than that.
10 Audiences Are Certain They Saw The Contents Of The Package
The conclusion of SE7EN is one that shocked audiences upon first view, and that continues to give them chills upon repeat viewing. After John Doe finally reveals himself to Mills and Somerset, the audience is left thinking that the whole thing just might wrap up without the final two sins: Envy and Wrath. The unfortunate reality, especially for Mills, is that he and his wife Tracy, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, are John’s final victims.
William Somerset’s reaction to discovering John Doe's package is just as powerful today as it was back then.
Just as nearly all of the violence in SE7EN is implied off screen, the package is never really revealed. As an audience, we’re left to fill in the image in our minds. Despite this, there are some viewers that swear they have seen a cut of the film in which the package's contents are on full display.
9 The Alternate Casting Choices
Given how impactful SE7EN was, it’s hard to imagine anything different about the film. The storyline, cinematography, and dialogue are so ingrained in people’s memories that it’s hard to know what about it could be improved upon.
What’s especially hard to imagine is the film’s main characters played by anyone other than their respective actors and actresses. As it turns out, there had been others in mind to play every main character in SE7EN. The role of David Mills was initially offered to Denzel Washington, before being taken on by Brad Pitt, with Christina Applegate turning down the role of Tracy Mills.
Similarly, Al Pacino was considered for the role of Mills’ partner, William Somerset. Perhaps most hard to imagine though, is R.E.M’s Michael Stipe in the role of John Doe, an idea originally considered by the studio.
8 Morgan Freeman’s Throwing Skills
Often times, an actor or actress’ real-life skills come into play throughout the making of a film. This can sometimes be seen in the form of a musical skill, a bounty of knowledge on a certain subject, or a unique physical trait; just look at Bill Skarsgård’s eye trick in 2017’s IT.
For Morgan Freeman, however, his real-life skills make it on screen during Se7en’s knife-throwing scene.
In this scene, Somerset is alone in his living room, throwing a knife onto a dart board. The crew’s original plan was simply to film two shots and cut them together in editing. Freeman had other plans, however, taking the awkwardly-balanced prop knife and landing it in the centre of the dartboard throw after throw.
7 SE7EN's Gloomy Appearance
To describe SE7EN as bleak is a bit of an understatement. The film ends on a pretty major downer, with few glimpses of hope throughout.
Adding to the film’s bleakness is its dark, gloomy appearance. It’s either raining or on the cusp of raining during nearly every scene in the film. This was achieved simply enough through artificial rain machines on set. While this certainly helped set the tone for the film, it was not great for director David Fincher’s personal health, as he developed a long-lasting cold throughout filming.
There were additional steps taken in post-production to add even more of a gloomy tone to SE7EN. The film negatives were processed using what is known as a bleach bypass. This resulted in a grainier picture, emphasizing on the shadows depicted in any given frame.
6 Andrew Kevin Walker’s Inspiration
Given John Doe’s motivation throughout the film, it’s possible that SE7EN’s screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker has a bit of a pessimistic view towards humanity. Doe’s idea of punishing those who he feels deserve it could lead some to view him as more of a twisted anti-hero than a villain.
After graduating from Penn State, Walker spent a few years in New York City trying to get into the industry.
Without much luck, the young screenwriter took a job at a record store to try and get by. His menial day job coupled with a state of depression led Walker to develop the idea that eventually became the screenplay for SE7EN. Needless to say, we'd like to take a look at his record collection.
5 John Doe’s Notebooks Were Real
When Detectives Mills and Somerset find John Doe’s apartment, the things they find inside give them an even darker insight into the man they are chasing. The dank atmosphere of his apartment, coupled with notebooks full of rants about the flaws Doe sees in society paint the picture of a very disturbed man.
The production team went the extra mile in creating John Doe’s apartment. Those notebooks that provide the detectives with so much insight are actually full of writing that the team felt could come from John Doe. If you recall, there are a lot of notebooks on Doe’s shelf. The handwritten books took over 2 months for the production team to finish, and reportedly added over $15,000 to the film’s production.
4 A Script Mix-Up Landed David Fincher as Director
David Fincher didn’t have the easiest start in Hollywood. Some of Fincher’s most notable troubles came with the making of Alien 3. Fincher’s time on set was so miserable that he’s since disowned the film. Following the third Alien film’s completion, the young director was not keen on picking up another movie any time soon. Despite this, Fincher was sent a copy of Andrew Kevin Walker’s screenplay and found the story captivating enough to give directing another chance.
The problem, at least in the studio’s mind, was that David Fincher was given an older draft of the screenplay.
New Line Cinema was unhappy with the original ending and had meant to send the rewritten screenplay. Fincher loved Walker’s original ending so much, however, that he only agreed to take on the film if it remained true to the screenplay.
3 The Cast And Crew’s Loyalty To SE7EN's Ending
So, what was the rewritten ending? Studio executives weren’t happy with Mills, in John Doe’s words, becoming Wrath. They felt that taking Doe out in pure anger would make him a less sympathetic character.
Their solution was to have John do away with Mills, and then be dispatched by Somerset. For long time viewers, an ending other than the one depicted on screen simply wouldn’t work. Fortunately for fans, the cast and crew felt the same.
While director David Fincher agreed to consider a different ending, he ultimately sided with one of the film’s stars. Brad Pitt felt so strongly that the original ending was perfect, that he threatened not to shoot the movie were the ending changed.
2 Kevin Spacey’s Lack Of Film Credit
In the case of SE7EN, the reveal of John Doe is one of its most iconic moments. The film's cast and crew were certainly aware of this, as they made one very unconventional step towards keeping Doe's identity a secret in the time leading up to the premiere.
If you look at the opening credits, you'll notice Kevin Spacey is completely left out.
While studios no doubt hated the idea of keeping one of the movie's stars a secret, those more closely involved with the film knew it was for the good of the story. Spacey and director David Fincher especially felt that knowing about his involvement would take viewers out of the experience of catching Doe alongside Mills and Somerset.
1 One Of The Most Iconic Scenes Featured The Actors’ Doubles
The ending has been pretty prominent on the list so far, but we’ve got one last interesting fact about the film’s ending. As is the case with most Hollywood productions, actors and actresses have a limited time to devote to any given movie. In the case of SE7EN, that meant that some shots from its ending featured the cast’s doubles.
The long shot from the helicopter before the box reveal was not Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Spacey, but rather their body doubles.
Long shots aside, there was a rather close shot of the three characters that featured the stand-in John Doe. When Somerset runs to Mills and pleads with him not to shoot the criminal, Kevin Spacey’s double is actually the one on his knees in front of the two detectives.
Do you remember the first time you saw SE7EN? Let us know in the comments.