Seven (1995 film)

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Seven (movie) poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by David Fincher
Produced by Arnold Kopelson
Phyllis Carlyle
Written by Andrew Kevin Walker
Starring Brad Pitt
Morgan Freeman
Kevin Spacey
John C. McGinley
Gwyneth Paltrow
Music by Howard Shore
Cinematography Darius Khondji
Edited by Richard Francis-Bruce
Distributed by New Line Cinema
Release dates
  • September 22, 1995 (1995-09-22)
Running time
127 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $33 million[2]
Box office $327.3 million[2]

Seven (sometimes stylized as SE7EN)[3] is a 1995 American neo-noir psychological thriller film directed by David Fincher, and stars Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, John C. McGinley, R. Lee Ermey and Kevin Spacey. The film was based on a screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker.


In an unnamed American city, soon-to-be-retiring Detective William R. Somerset (Freeman) is partnered with short-tempered-but-idealistic Detective David Mills (Pitt), who recently transferred to the department, moving to the city with his wife Tracy (Paltrow). Mills introduces Somerset to Tracy, after which Somerset becomes her confidant: Tracy was displeased with the city and feels it is no place to raise a child, something she has not yet told Mills about. Somerset sympathizes with her, having a similar situation with his ex-girlfriend many years earlier, and advises her to only tells Mills if she plans on keeping the child.

Somerset and Mills investigate a string of murders tied to a serial killer. The first victim is an obese man forced to eat until his stomach exploded. The second was a rich attorney who died from both fatal bloodletting and the removal of a pound of flesh. They find clues that tie the two cases together and leading them to a third possible victim's apartment. There, they find the victim, a known drug dealer and child molester, still alive but strapped to a bed and emaciated, they also find a series of pictures of the restrained victim, one taken each day over the last year. They come to recognize the cases are connected by the seven deadly sins, the three known victims, representing gluttony, greed and sloth. The photos also show their killer has been planning these deaths for some time.

Somerset and Mills identify a man named John Doe (Spacey), who has checked out many library books on the deadly sins. Doe flees when they go to his apartment, and Mills gives chase. Doe eventually corners and holds Mills at gunpoint, but after a few moments, drops the gun and escapes. At Doe's apartment, they find hundreds of handwritten notebooks of Doe's irrational judgement, and clues leading to a fourth victim. They arrive too late to prevent the death of the lust victim: a prostitute killed by an unwilling man wearing a bladed S&M device on his genitals, forced by Doe to simultaneously rape and kill her, severely traumatizing him. They are alerted to their pride victim, a supermodel that had her face mutilated by Doe, and given the option by her killer either to call 9-1-1 or commit suicide by pills.

Later, Somerset and Mills are approached by Doe, his hands covered in blood and giving himself up for arrest. They discover Doe has been removing the skin on his fingers to avoid leaving behind prints, while the blood is that of a yet-identified victim. Doe, through his lawyer, offers to show the detectives to that victim and confess to the murders under very specific terms, or he will otherwise plead insanity. Somerset is wary, but Mills agrees.

The two drive Doe out to a remote desert region, where a delivery van approaches them. Mills holds Doe at gunpoint while Somerset goes to intercept the driver, who was instructed to bring a box out to them. As Somerset recovers the box and sends away the driver, Doe begins telling Mills about how jealous he was of Mills' life and marriage to Tracy and their coming child, making Mills become antagonistic. Somerset opens the box, and in horror, tells Mills to stay back and not listen to Doe. Doe continues to goad Mills as Mills frantically asks what was in the box. Doe reveals that he was so jealous of Mills, that he killed Tracy and her head is in the box. Doe wants to be killed as to become the victim of envy and that by extracting vengeance on him, Mills would become wrath. Despite Somerset's attempt to stop him, Mills repeatedly fires his gun into Doe, killing him. Police converge and take a decimated Mills away. Later, Somerset leaves the police department in a voice-over, he paraphrases a quote by Ernest Hemingway: "'The world is a fine place, and worth fighting for'...I agree with the second part."




The primary influence for the film's screenplay came from Andrew Kevin Walker's time spent in New York City while trying to make it as a screenwriter. "I didn't like my time in New York, but it's true that if I hadn't lived there I probably wouldn't have written Seven."[4] He envisioned actor William Hurt as Somerset and named the character after his favorite author, W. Somerset Maugham.[4]

Jeremiah S. Chechik was attached to direct at one point.[4] During pre-production, Al Pacino was considered for the Somerset role, but he decided to do City Hall. Denzel Washington and Sylvester Stallone turned down the role of Mills.

The ending of the screenplay, with the head in the box, was originally part of an earlier draft that New Line had rejected, instead opting for an ending that involved more traditional elements of a detective thriller film with more action-oriented elements. But when New Line sent David Fincher the screenplay to review for his interest in the project, they accidentally sent him the original screenplay with the head-in-the-box ending. At the time, Fincher had not read a script for a year and a half since after the frustrating experience of making Alien 3; he said, "I thought I'd rather die of colon cancer than do another movie".[5] Fincher eventually agreed to direct Seven because he was drawn to the script, which he found to be a "connect-the-dots movie that delivers about inhumanity. It's psychologically violent. It implies so much, not about why you did but how you did it".[5] He found it more a "meditation on evil" rather than a "police procedural".

When New Line realized that they had sent Fincher the wrong draft, the President of Production, Michael De Luca, met with Fincher and noted that there was internal pressure to retain the revised version; De Luca stated that if Fincher promised to produce the movie, they would be able to stay with the head-in-a-box ending.[6] Despite this, producer Kopelson refused to allow the film to include the head-in-a-box scene.[7] Actor Pitt joined Fincher in arguing for keeping this original scene, noting that his previous film Legends of the Fall had its emotional ending cut after negative feedback from test audiences, and refusing to do Seven unless the head-in-the-box scene remained.[8]


Filming took place in Los Angeles, California.

Fincher approached making Seven like a "tiny genre movie, the kind of movie Friedkin might have made after The Exorcist." He worked with cinematographer Darius Khondji and adopted a simple approach to the camerawork, which was influenced by the television show COPS, "how the camera is in the backseat peering over people's shoulder".[5] Fincher allowed Walker on the set while filming for on-the-set rewrites.[4] According to the director, "Seven is the first time I got to carry through certain things about the camera – and about what movies are or can be".[5]

The crowded urban streets filled with noisy denizens and an oppressive rain that always seems to fall without respite were integral parts of the film, as Fincher wanted to show a city that was "dirty, violent, polluted, often depressing. Visually and stylistically, that's how we wanted to portray this world. Everything needed to be as authentic and raw as possible." To this end, Fincher turned to production designer Arthur Max to create a dismal world that often eerily mirrors its inhabitants. "We created a setting that reflects the moral decay of the people in it", says Max. "Everything is falling apart, and nothing is working properly." The film's brooding, dark look was achieved through a chemical process called bleach bypass, wherein the silver in the film stock was not removed, which in turn deepened the dark, shadowy images in the film and increased its overall tonal quality.

The 'head in a box' ending continued to worry the studio after filming was completed. After the first cut of the film was shown to the studio, they attempted to mitigate the bleakness of the ending by replacing Mills' wife's head with that of a dog, or by not having Mills fire on John Doe. However, both Fincher and Pitt continued to fight for the original ending.[8] The final scenes of Mills being taken away and Somerset's quote from Ernest Hemingway were filmed by Fincher after initial filming was complete as a way to placate the studio (the original intention was for the film to suddenly end after Mills shot John Doe).[7]

Title sequence[edit]

On the film's title sequence, Fincher has said:

The sequence for Se7en did very important non-narrative things; in the original script there was a title sequence that had Morgan Freeman buying a house out in the middle of nowhere and then travelling back on a train. He was making his way back to the unnamed city from the unnamed suburban sprawl, and that's where the title was supposed to be—"insert title sequence here"—but we didn't have the money to do that. We also lacked the feeling of John Doe, the villain, who just appeared 90 minutes into the movie. It was oddly problematic, you just needed a sense of what these guys were up against. Kyle Cooper, the designer of the title sequence, came to me and said, "You know, you have these amazing books that you spent tens of thousands of dollars to make for the John Doe interior props. I'd like to see them featured." And I said, "Well, that would be neat, but that's kind of a 2D glimpse. Figure out a way for it to involve John Doe, to show that somewhere across town somebody is working on some really evil shit. I don't want it to be just flipping through pages, as beautiful as they are." So Kyle came up with a great storyboard, and then we got Angus Wall and Harris Savides—Harris to shoot it and Angus to cut it—and the rest, as they say, is internet history.[9]


Box office[edit]

Seven was released on September 22, 1995, in 2,441 theaters where it grossed US$13.9 million on its opening weekend. It went on to gross $100.1 million in North America and $227.1 million in the rest of the world for a total of $327.3 million,[10] making Seven the seventh-highest grossing film in 1995.[11] The film also spent 4 consecutive weeks in the top spot at the U.S. box office in 1995.

Critical response[edit]

The film was well received by critics and holds a 80% positive rating at the film-review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, based on 68 critics with an average rating of 7.6 out of 10. Its consensus reading: "A brutal, relentlessly grimy shocker with taut performances, slick gore effects, and a haunting finale."[3] The film has a rating of 65 on Metacritic based on 22 reviews.[12]

Gary Arnold, in The Washington Times, praised the cast: "The film's ace in the hole is the personal appeal generated by Mr. Freeman as the mature, cerebral cop and Mr. Pitt as the young, headstrong cop. Not that the contrast is inspired or believable in itself. What gets to you is the prowess of the co-stars as they fill out sketchy character profiles".[13] Sheila Johnston, in her review for The Independent, praised Freeman's performance: "the film belongs to Freeman and his quiet, carefully detailed portrayal of the jaded older man who learns not to give up the fight".[14] In his review for Sight and Sound, John Wrathall wrote, "Seven has the scariest ending since George Sluizer's original The Vanishing...and stands as the most complex and disturbing entry in the serial killer genre since Manhunter".[15] In his "Great Movies" list review, film critic Roger Ebert commented on Fincher's direction: "None of his films is darker than this one."[16]


New Line Cinema re-released Seven in Westwood, Los Angeles, California on Christmas Day and in New York City on December 29, 1995, in an attempt to generate Academy Award nominations for Freeman, Pitt, and Fincher, which was ultimately unsuccessful.[17]

American Film Institute lists

Year Ceremony Category Recipients Result
1995 68th Academy Awards Best Film Editing Richard Francis-Bruce Nominated
49th British Academy Film Awards Best Screenplay - Original Andrew Kevin Walker Nominated
1996 MTV Movie Awards Best Movie Seven Won
Most Desirable Male Brad Pitt Won
Best On-Screen Duo Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman Nominated
Best Villain Kevin Spacey Won

Home media[edit]

For the DVD release, Seven was remastered and presented in the widescreen format, preserving the 2.40:1 aspect ratio of its original theatrical exhibition. Audio options include Dolby Digital EX 5.1, DTS ES Discrete 6.1, and Stereo Surround Sound.

The Seven DVD features four newly recorded, feature-length audio commentaries featuring the stars and other key contributors to the film, who talk about their experiences making Seven.

This DVD is also compatible with DVD-ROM drives. Disc One features a printable screenplay with links to the film. The Blu-ray Disc was released September 14, 2010.[18]

Novelization and comic books[edit]

In 1995, a novelization with the same title was written by Anthony Bruno based on the original film.[19]

Between September 2006 and October 2007, a series of seven publications were published by Zenescope Entertainment with each of the seven issues dedicated to one of the seven sins. It told the story from the perspective of John Doe rather than the two homicide detectives as in the film. Each issue included contributions by a group of creators independent of each other. All seven parts became part of a comic book that was released on January 15, 2008 by as SE7EN book edited by David Seidman and Ralph Tedesco.[20][21]


The opening credit music is a spliced sample of an uncredited remix of the Nine Inch Nails song "Closer", available as "Closer (Precursor)", remixed by Coil, on the "Closer" single. The song during the end credits is David Bowie's song "The Hearts Filthy Lesson", found on his album Outside. The film's original score is by Howard Shore.

  1. "In the Beginning" – The Statler Brothers
  2. "Guilty" – Gravity Kills
  3. "Trouble Man" – Marvin Gaye
  4. "Speaking of Happiness" – Gloria Lynne – written by Buddy Scott & Jimmy Radcliffe
  5. "Suite No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068 Air" – written by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by Stuttgarter Kammerorchester / Karl Münchinger
  6. "Love Plus One" – Haircut One Hundred
  7. "I Cover the Waterfront" – Billie Holiday
  8. "Now's the Time" – Charlie Parker
  9. "Straight, No Chaser" – Thelonious Monk (Taken from Monk in Tokyo)
  10. "Portrait of John Doe" – Howard Shore
  11. "Suite from Seven" – Howard Shore

Cultural influences[edit]

Samay: When Time Strikes, a Bollywood film, was inspired by this film.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "SE7EN (18)". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved July 28, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "Seven". Box Office Mojo. 
  3. ^ a b "Seven". Rotten Tomatoes. 
  4. ^ a b c d Montesano, Anthony (February 1996). "Seven‍‍ '​‍s Deadly Sins". Cinefantastique. p. 48. 
  5. ^ a b c d Taubin, Amy (January 1996). "The Allure of Decay". Sight and Sound. p. 24. 
  6. ^ Salsibury, Mark (2009-01-18). "David Fincher". The Guardian. Retrieved 2012-06-26. 
  7. ^ a b Mottham, James (2007). The Sundance Kids: How the Mavericks Took Back Hollywood. Faber and Faber. pp. 153–155. ISBN 0865479674. 
  8. ^ a b Smith, Grady (2011-09-16). "How Brad Pitt fought to keep Gwyneth's head in the box in 'Se7en'". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2012-06-26. 
  9. ^ Perkins, Will (August 27, 2012). "David Fincher: A Film Title Retrospective". Art of the Title. Retrieved September 8, 2012. 
  10. ^ "Seven". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 26, 2008. 
  11. ^ The top six grossing films of 1995 were Die Hard with a Vengeance, Toy Story, Apollo 13, GoldenEye, Pocahontas and Batman Forever.
  12. ^ "Seven". Metacritic. 
  13. ^ Arnold, Gary (September 22, 1995). "Sinister Seven a killer of a thriller". The Washington Times. 
  14. ^ Johnston, Sheila (January 4, 1996). "Sin has seldom looked so good". The Independent. 
  15. ^ Wrathall, John (January 1996). "Seven". Sight and Sound. p. 50. 
  16. ^ Ebert, Roger (July 18, 2011). "Seven (1995)". Chicago Sun-Times. 
  17. ^ Cox, Dan (December 22, 1995). "Seven gets new dates for Oscar season". Variety. 
  18. ^ Creepy, Uncle. "First Blu-ray News: Seven". Retrieved November 4, 2011. 
  19. ^ Bruno, Anthony (1995). Seven: a novel by Anthony Bruno based on a screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker. New York: St. Martin's Paperbacks. p. 248. ISBN 0-312-95704-1. 
  20. ^ Comic Book Horrific sins: SE7EN" comes to comics this September
  21. ^ MyComicShop: Seven (2006 Se7en) comic books

External links[edit]