Who will be People’s Sexiest Man Alive?????
August 8th, 2013
One thing about me is that I legitimately wonder who will be crowned People’s Sexiest Man Alive this November. I really do. It doesn’t affect my life in any way. I don’t think I’ve ever actually read People magazine. But for real, I really want to know who they’ll pick. There’s no obvious choice this year, like there was in 2012 (Channing Tatum) and 2011 (Ryan Gosling, who turned the honour down). So I’ve studied the past winners, the criteria, the context, and the sexy-man-related news on the internet in order to compile a list of predictions.
What kind of man does a man have to be to become the Sexiest Man Alive? A sexy one, obviously, but also a currently popular one. A People rep explained, following Channing Tatum’s victory last fall, that “The cover subject is chosen solely on the following criteria: Is he hot at the moment? Is he sexy? Is his career on fire this year?”
The first item, “is he hot at the moment” is basically just a combination of the next two – sexiness and current popularity/success. Plenty of folks mistakenly believe that magazines’ “hottest/sexiest” lists are chosen based on public figures’ actual looks, and make a big deal about how x is way hotter than y. While some lists weigh appearance more than others, it’s too subjective a measure to use as the sole criteria for any pseudo-objective list.
And even if looks are the main factor, popularity would still play a role because more-famous entertainers are seen by more people and therefore desired by more people. As such, sexy entertainer men (mentertainers?) who don’t reach a mass audience or aren’t really stars are often included in the full list but seldom if ever win – for example, recent years’ listmakers Damian Lewis from Homeland and Joe Manganiello from True Blood. Basically, if you have to say “from ________” after the dude’s name, he’s not making the cover no matter how sexy he is.
Still, People picks a sexy man who also happens to have done well that year, not a man who’s done well that year and also happens to be sexy. The criteria most likely takes into account not only popularity / career success but also – and perhaps predominantly – the popularity of a man’s sexiness itself. For example, Gosling may not have been the highest-grossing or most talked-about male actor of 2011, but he was the male actor whose sexiness was most frequently talked about. (This factor evidently only goes so far, though – Old Spice Guy didn’t win in 2010)
Gosling, of course, turned down the People cover, and so the magazine infamously went with its intended runner-up, Bradley Cooper. This adds another element to the criteria: People-appropriateness. The winner has to be both the kind of person People readers find appealing and the kind of person who finds being on the cover of People at least somewhat appealing.
Remember, people: this is People. It’s the most-read magazine in America, and its audience is women with an average age of 38. This isn’t Tumblr’s list, so you can count out:
The average age of Sexiest Man Alive winners over the past 2 decades is 37 and a half, and nobody under 30 has won the title since Tom Cruise won in 1990 at age 28 (although the past 3 winners have at least been under 35) . They’re also almost always brown-haired white guys with strong jawlines. There’ve been plenty of articles over the years about whether People’s Sexiest Man practices are racist, but the root problem is more that they’re overwhelmingly safe. People pretty much always chooses an older man over a young one, an established commodity over a newcomer, and the most generic/normative looks over more interesting or “non-traditional” ones. People’s choices are boring and maybe kind of racist because middle America’s taste is boring and kind of racist.* And to be fair, the shortlist is usually pretty diverse even though the winner isn’t.
*This isn’t just about looks here; movie men famous enough to be household names are also likelier to be white. Over the past 5 years of Forbes’ Highest-Paid / Highest-Earning (male) Actors lists – which range from top 10 to top 20 – the only men of colour to appear even once are Denzel Washington, Will Smith, The Rock, Eddie Murphy, and Jacob from Twilight.
Overall, the Sexiest Man edition is one of People‘s biggest issues of the year, and so they have a strong financial incentive to produce the most appealing and attention-driving cover. The People staff choose the winner, but they choose it based on who they think will appeal the most to their readership and result in the most purchases.
So with all that in mind, here are the predictions. Remember that these predictions are not based on the dudes’ actual looks. I have very little ability to actually tell how hot one man is versus another. This is me predicting what People magazine will do, and so the choices are based on how they seem to do their list, and on whose sexiness seems to be #trending in #popular #culture.
I’ve tried to be relatively exhaustive here and explain why certain guys are worth mentioning but not legitimate contenders. So first up we’ve got depreciating assets who will probably miss out, then a list of the guys who’ll be in the conversation for the shortlist, and finally a rundown of the odds-on favourites.
Channing Tatum – G.I. Joe, White House Down, Foxcatcher (upcoming)
Last year’s winner had an underwhelming 2013: Tatum’s role in GI Joe wasn’t that big and his White House Down was a flop.
James Franco – This Is The End, Oz, Spring Breakers, Lovelace (upcoming)
Franco has been in a ton of stuff this year, but he’s done so as Weird Scruffy Grad School James Franco instead of Gucci Model James Franco. The man’s career has been popping off lately, but to succeed he’s paid the ultimate price – his hotness. He might end up losing ground to his younger brother Dave, who’s taken over the Cocky Rich Kid roles James used to play.
Leonardo Dicaprio – Django Unchained, The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street (upcoming)
If he didn’t win after Titanic, he’s not gonna win now. DiCaprio’s career has resurged lately, but I don’t feel like folks don’t really talk about him as sexy anymore.
The Rock – G.I. Joe, Fast and Furious 6
The Rock “Dwayne” Johnson is a good-looking and very very strong man, and he’s been in 2 fairly big movies this year. But in both cases he was just one cog in an ensemble cast, and he seems to be moving into Bruce Willis’s patented Action Dad niche rather than leading-man status. Maybe that’ll change with next year’s Hercules, though.
Ryan Reynolds – The Croods, Turbo, R.I.P.D.
In retrospect, his Sexiest Man Alive cover in 2010 is starting to look like the high point of his career.
Hugh Jackman – The Wolverine, Prisoners, Les Miserables
Jackman is beginning to move into the Sexy Dad niche that People loves so much, but he already won once and isn’t as big a deal as he used to be.
Johnny Depp – The Lone Ranger
He was in one big movie and it didn’t do well. Nothing to see here.
Ryan Gosling - Gangster Squad, Only God Forgives
His movies did badly too, but Gosling has already turned the award down so there’s no chance of him winning regardless.
- Sci-fi stars and superheroes
Charlie Hunnam – Pacific Rim, Sons of Anarchy
Pacific Rim was big enough to get Hunnam noticed, and I’ve seen plenty of gifs over the last months with captions proclaiming his hotness. His recent, weird, temporary casting in 50 Shades of Grey probably makes him people-appropriate enough to lock down the a shortlist (top 12) spot.
Idris Elba – Pacific Rim, Luther, Thor: The Dark World, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (upcoming)
Elba’s hot-man-ness has been talked about for longer than his costar Hunnam’s; his roles in both The Office and Obsessed revolved around women being extremely attracted to him, and the bigger he gets the likelier it becomes that he’ll be the second black Sexiest Man Alive. But Pacific Rim wasn’t ubiquitous enough to make him a household name and his superhero role (Heimdall in Thor) is only a supporting one. And as with Henry Cavill later on, American audiences might not be familiar with his irl charmingness. In that Daily Beast article mentioned above, Brett R. Johnson of The Root says “If Idris Elba, for example, landed a couple roles in big-budget, box-office winners and had a blowout year, I can see him on the cover. He could be an undeniable choice. The stars would have to align just right, though.” There was a chance of that role being James Bond, but Daniel Craig re-upped for 2 more films.
(Speaking of Craig, Skyfall came out shortly after the 2012 Sexiest Man list, and at this point it’s probably been too long since its release for him to be on People’s minds enough to have a shot at the 2013 title.)
Chris Hemsworth – Thor: The Dark World, Rush
Rush didn’t do amazingly, but Thor 2 is a guaranteed hit. Hemsworth is a serious contender for this year’s crown, but his main obstacle is that a handsomer man (Henry Cavill) played a bigger superhero (Superman). Still, I like his odds (especially since Thor comes out right before the Sexiest Man issue).
Tom Hiddleston – Thor: The Dark World, Only Lovers Left Alive (upcoming)
I already told you this isn’t tumblr… but that said, Hiddleston’s alternative-hunk status seems to be shifting from Weird Supervillain Alternative Hunk to Dashing British Alternative Hunk – which makes him substantially more People-appropriate.
Benedict Cumberbatch – Star Trek Into Darkness, Sherlock, 12 Years A Slave, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (upcoming)
On one hand, he’s been voted sexiest man alive in the UK already, he has legions of devoted fans who profess his sexiness and relentlessly cyberbully anyone who disagrees, and he stars in several of the year’s most-anticipated releases. On the other hand, he looks like a human lizard and has a stupid made-up name. Even just within the realm of Genius White Guy Who Is A Dick To People To Prove How Smart He Is characters, Tony Stark and the Elementary version of Sherlock Holmes (John Lee Miller) are probably much more to People’s liking than Cumberbatch. But both Cumberbatch and Hiddleston are getting big enough that one might make the shortlist.
Chris Pine – Star Trek Into Darkness, Jack Ryan (upcoming) / Zachary Quinto – Star Trek Into Darkness, American Horror Story
He isn’t a huge star, but neither was Bradley Cooper. Still, Pine isn’t in much of anything outside of Star Trek. Someone from Star Trek will likely make the shortlist, and Quinto would be a more interesting choice.
Robert Downey Jr. – Iron Man 3
He’s the star of the highest-grossing film of 2013 (which is also the 5th-highest-grossing film of all time), but people don’t necessarily see much of him outside of his movie roles compared to guys like Pitt, Depp, etc. (although most of Downey’s roles seem to be pretty much just versions of Robert Downey Jr). I really have no idea if he’s particularly sexy, and I feel like if I haven’t repeatedly heard that a famous dude is sexy then he’s not going to win Sexiest Man Alive. Update: Just saw a NYT article on magazine covers that suggested he’s next-level sexy, so I’m recalibrating my metrics accordingly.
- TV shows and music
Although the winner is almost always a movie star, TV actors are always well-represented on the list because a shows full of hot mans is likelier to be popular among People‘s demographic than the latest action blockbuster. At least one guy from a cable show and at least one guy from a major network show will make the list, as Homeland’s Damian Lewis and New Girl’s Max Greenfield did last year. On the cable side, I feel like Breaking Bad‘s Aaron Paul is a good bet, as well as guys like Kit Harrington from GOT and Norman Reedus from Walking Dead. As for non-cable TV, I don’t watch enough TV shows to know who the main hunks are (although there are plenty of lists that offer to explain for me). You could basically say “the guy from _______” and insert pretty much any primetime show in that blank, and there’d be a very good chance he’s somewhere on the Top 185 (seriously, they include 185 dudes in the the Sexiest Man issue).
(A commenter below mentioned the Supernatural boys – Jared Padelacki and Jensen Ackles – which seems reasonable.)
Adam Levine – the Voice, American Horror Story
I used to think Adam Levine was a very good-looking dude, but the more I see him talk on tv the more unbearably boring he gets. However, that probably makes him even more appealing to People‘s mass audience. And since his Voice costar Blake Shelton made the Sexiest Man Alive top 10 last year, I feel like the Mom Vote could push Levine close to the top this year, especially since The Voice just started up again a couple weeks ago. If a non-Timberlake musician were to win, it would be Levine. Update: there are multiple reports that Levine will be named the winner tomorrow.
Pharrell and Robin Thicke
Pharrell Williams costarred in two of the year’s hittest singles (“Blurred Lines” and “Get Lucky”) and he looks 18 even though he’s 40. He still might not be well-known enough to make the shortlist though, so his collaborator Robin Thicke is likelier to make it. “Blurred Lines” got him mainstream attention, but it’s Thicke’s back-catalogue of sensual slow jams that solidifies his brand as sexy. However, that brand is still essentially an older/sleazier Justin Timberlake, and JT is easily the bigger star.
On his new #1 album Nothing Was The Same Drake bragged that he and his crew were “degenerates, but even Ellen love our shit.” Ellen herself may love our boy Wheelchair Jimmy, but does her target audience? I don’t know if the second-highest first-week sales of the year and a crossover hit single will be enough to make Drake relevant to average People readers.
- Perennial contenders
Brad Pitt – World War Z, The Counselor (upcoming), 12 Years A Slave
He’s Brad Pitt, but he’s also won twice already. People might decide that 13 years is a long enough break between awards and see fit to reward Pitt for a decade of dedicated commitment to the craft of sexiest-man-ness. His whirlwind marketing tour saved the studio from losing a ton of money on the over-budget, reshoot-heavy World War Z, proving he’s still a superstar and international draw, so it’s possible he takes home an unprecedented 3rd title. He’s also delivered the greatest acting performance of all time.
George Clooney – Gravity
The recent success of Gravity might get him back on the shortlist, but overall it’s been a quiet year for Clooney other than that time he was SPOTTED AT UBC!!! and that other time he was SPOTTED IN ENDERBY!!
- People favourites
Some guys aren’t that famous overall but receive disproportionate attention from People, often because of who they go out with or used to go out with.
Justin Theroux- dating Jennifer Anniston
Theroux hasn’t been in any films this year, but due mainly to his relationship with J. Anniston he stays on People‘s radar year-round. In October the People website launched a SEXIEST MAN 2013 subsection, and Theroux headlined the “Hot Wheels!: How Sexy Guys Get Around” slideshow.
Liam Hemsworth- Catching Fire, dating Miley Cyrus, breaking up with Miley Cyrus, being Chris Hemsworth’s brother
Young Hemsworth has only really been in 2 even remotely big movies (The Last Song and The Expendables) outside of the Hunger Games series; even now, most of his vehicles are flops or straight-to-video releases that you’ve never really heard of. Still, Hemsworth is a mainstay in People, suggesting they’re invested in him as a hot man rather than a movie star. That bodes well for his shortlist chances, especially since Catching Fire is coming out soon. And although Liam is a long way from competing for the crown, he may actually end up influencing the final result substantially: Thor’s stock is rising at the right time, but if enough people prefer the younger Hemsworth then that could undermine his case.
Matt Bomer – White Collar
It’s hard to say whether there’ll be an openly gay People’s Sexiest Man Alive anytime soon, because the SMA conceit seems to rely on the magazine’s overwhelmingly female readership wanting to be with the Sexiest Man. But Matt Bomer (who People describes as “So Hot It Should Be Illegal”) has no shortage of female readers who’d want to be with him, and if their campaign to make him the lead in 50 Shades of Grey had succeeded there would have been a decent chance he’d win Sexiest Man Alive once it came out. For now, he’s always a good bet for the shortlist.
- Other guys I couldn’t think of a category for
Michael Fassbender - The Counselor (upcoming), 12 Years A Slave
Counselor and 12 Years aren’t big blockbusters or anything, but having them both come out at the end of October could put Fassbender directly on People‘s radar. But Brad Pitt is also in both as well as a legit box office success earlier in the year, so it’s hard to see the lesser-known Fast Bender surpassing him.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt - Don John
I was surprised JGL didn’t make the shortlist last year despite being in 3 big movies (Dark Knight, Looper, Lincoln). This year he’s only been in a single, mid-level movie (and a few Jimmy Fallon skits), but the timing might be right for him to hit the list.
Jake Gyllenhaal - Prisoners
David Beckham – various endorsements
If there’s nobody who’s had an especially successful, especially sexy year, then People will often just go with a guy whose hotness has been known for a while but not yet rewarded. If that’s how they roll this year, then David Beckham or Jon Hamm make the most sense. Beckham would be the first athlete to win, and while he hasn’t done any actual athleting in the States this past year (in May he won a French Ligue 1 title with Paris St. Germain and then retired from soccer), he’s done several large ad campaigns, most of which revolved around him being shirtless.
Jon Hamm – Mad Men
Jon Ham would be one of the few actors to win for being primarily a tv star rather than a film star, and it may hurt his chances that he hasn’t done much this year outside of another Mad Men season. But on the other hand, I’ve seen multiple articles this year about the outline of Jon Hamm’s penis being visible through his trousers.
Alternately, People could go with a younger up-and-comer instead of an established and reliable commodity.
Enter Henry Cavill: He’s literally Superman, and one of the few candidates whom I can actually tell is very very attractive. Man of Steel was one of the year’s highest-grossing films, but I don’t know if American audiences will have seen enough interviews by the British actor to be familiar with his (fairly charming) real-life personality in general. Superman also came out way back in June, so if Thor 2 makes more than say $90 million in its first weekend then I would give Hemsworth the advantage over Cavill.
His first album since 2006 is also currently the year’s highest-selling album, and while a musician has never been named Sexiest Man alive, Justin is one of biggest solo male singers working and has a decent if not spectacular film career. His musical persona relies fairly heavily on being smooth and sexy, obviously, but the biggest factor in JT’s quest for the Sexiest Man crown may be timing. His 20/20 Experience 2 of 2 album and his gambling thriller Runner Runner both dropped on September 27th – right around the time People will probably be deciding what to do for November’s Sexiest Man issue. Neither have had the kind of impact JT had earlier in the year, but they could still provide the kind of sustained cultural presence that would solidify JT as the man of the year. Even with Runner‘s low reviews and unspectacular box office, I still think Timberlake has the best shot at being Sexiest Man 2013.
*Timberlake’s Runner Runner costar Ben Affleck was the Sexiest Man Alive in 2002, while his other costar Ben Schwartz plays Parks & Rec’s Jean-Ralphio, who is the sexiest man alive in his own mind.