12/25/1995 at 01:00 AM EST
The movie, with its murky interiors, edgy confrontations and Hi bloated corpses, was so dark and downbeat that even its makers fretted about its fate. So what could account for Seven's astounding success? "I have three words for you," actor William Baldwin told USA Today, "Brad Pitt
. Brad Pitt
. Brad Pitt
Actually, Billy, that's six words. But the analysis is correct. "Brad Pitt
," says Seven producer Arnold Kopelson, "is the hottest young actor since the '40s." An opinion verified by the 1,000 teenage girls who stormed Seven's L.A. set. "They just wanted a piece of him," says Kopelson.
Who could blame them? Pitt's rangy, cool-hand looks made him a contender the moment the Oklahoma-born actor stripped off his shirt in 1991's Thelma and Louise. But this was the year, on the cape-tails of 1994's Interview with a Vampire, in which the 32-year-old star really showed his acting chops—and drawing power. Last winter he roped in critics (and $66 million at the box office) as a cowboy Romeo in Legends of the Fall. Next, as a cocky, disheveled big-city cop, he rolled a Seven (and nearly $100 million). Confident and canny, he then signed on as a scene-stealing psychotic in this month's Twelve Monkeys and as a prosecutor seeking revenge for his own childhood sexual abuse in next year's Sleepers. It's no surprise that he's looking more like Oscar material every day, or that his per-picture paycheck has risen to an estimated $8 million.
Remarkably, there's no sign of success going to Pitt's pretty head. "He's a good guy," testifies girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow
. Yes, agrees Twelve Monkeys director Terry Gilliam, "a decent, good guy who's serious about his work." As for being named PEOPLE'S Sexiest Man Alive: "A friend of mine said they misspelled it," Pitt recently told a reporter. "It was supposed to be sexiest moron."