Sexiest Man Alive: Who Could Be Next?

Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt – who could inherit the crown from these past PEOPLE cover stars?

01 of 20

SMA '09, '03: JOHNNY SEXY-IN-WAITING: ROB

SMA '09, '03: JOHNNY SEXY-IN-WAITING: ROB
Splash News Online; George Pimentel/WireImage

Good looks may have jump-started the careers of both two-time SMA Johnny Depp and Robert Pattinson. But the 25-year-old Twilight heartthrob is wisely following in the Oscar-nominated actor's footsteps, balancing box-office success with quirkier movies, like the period drama Bel Ami. "He's so super organized and in charge of his career," Bel Ami's Christina Ricci said of her British costar.

02 of 20

SMA '08: HUGH UPDATE! SMA '10: RYAN

SMA '08: HUGH UPDATE! SMA '10: RYAN
James Devaney/WireImage; Francis Specker/Landov

Hugh Jackman and Ryan Reynolds inspired superhero worship with their ab-tastic performances in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but the costars have more than buff bodies in common – they both share Sexiest Man Alive bragging rights. Reynolds, crowned 2010's Sexiest Man, says the hardest part of carrying the mantle will be "organically working this title into a conversation with random strangers."

03 of 20

SMA '07: MATT SEXY-IN-WAITING: LEO

SMA '07: MATT SEXY-IN-WAITING: LEO
Ramey; Jun Sato/WireImage

Taking over where Matt Damon's Jason Bourne left off, baby-faced star Leonardo DiCaprio has solidified his status as Hollywood's sexiest "thinking man" with intense roles in The Departed, Revolutionary Road and this fall's J. Edgar.

04 of 20

SMA '06, '97: GEORGE SEXY-IN-WAITING: JON

SMA '06, '97: GEORGE SEXY-IN-WAITING: JON
Michael Buckner/Getty; INF

Like George Clooney, Jon Hamm has come late to the fame game. But at 40, Mad Men's dashing leading man is proving he's just hitting his stride and having fun doing so, with his dramatic turn in The Town and multiple hosting gigs on Saturday Night Live.

05 of 20

SMA '05: MATTHEW SEXY-IN-WAITING: KELLAN

SMA '05: MATTHEW SEXY-IN-WAITING: KELLAN
Pacific Coast News; Jamie McCarthy/WireImage

For nearly 15 years, Matthew McConaughey's carefree no-shirt, no-problem attitude has made him one of Malibu's top attractions. Now his 26-year-old counterpart Kellan Lutz is carrying on the Texan's top-down tradition, from the beaches of St. Maarten to his 2011 swords-and-sandals film, Immortals.

06 of 20

SMA '04: JUDE SEXY-IN-WAITING: HUGH

SMA '04: JUDE SEXY-IN-WAITING: HUGH
Graham Jepson/WireImage; Walter McBride/Retna

Once dubbed "the most charming man" you could ever come across by Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law isn't the only British import that has won over Hollywood – and its leading ladies. Hugh Dancy has flaunted his leading man talent in Adam, but his best review comes from costar-turned-wife Claire Danes, who says he's simply "fabulous."

07 of 20

SMA '02: BEN SEXY-IN-WAITING: JAKE

SMA '02: BEN SEXY-IN-WAITING: JAKE
Matt Baron/BEImages; INF

"He's your basic tall, dark and handsome," wife Jennifer Garner has said of husband Ben Affleck. Who else shares those qualities? Jake Gyllenhaal. "Kids and dogs love him. He loves his mom and sister and girlfriend. He's perfect. Too bad he's ugly," his Brothers costar Natalie Portman joked about the 29-year-old.

08 of 20

SMA '01: PIERCE SEXY-IN-WAITING: DANIEL

SMA '01: PIERCE SEXY-IN-WAITING: DANIEL
Anthony Jones/UK Press/Getty; Fitzroy Barrett/Landov

Daniel Craig's gritty portrayal of James Bond in Casino Royale had temperatures rising – and even left his predecessor Pierce Brosnan a little shaken ... and stirred. "[I had] this image of me strutting down the corridors in my spandex suit and high heels bumping into Dan looking all butch and Bond like," Brosnan joked about shooting Mamma Mia! on the 007 soundstage.

09 of 20

SMA '00, '95: BRAD SEXY-IN-WAITING: CHRIS

SMA '00, '95: BRAD SEXY-IN-WAITING: CHRIS
Andrew Murray/Sygma/Corbis; Sergio Dionisio/Getty

Blond-haired, blue-eyed all-American icon Brad Pitt has held sway over Hollywood since 1991's Thelma amp Louise, but now there's a new sheriff ... er, captain in town. "He's young and he's handsome and he will be rich," William Shatner raved of his sci-fi successor Chris Pine, whose turn as Captain Kirk in the 2009 big-screen reboot spawned a new generation of female Trekkies.

10 of 20

SMA '99, '93: RICHARD SEXY-IN-WAITING: JOSH

SMA '99, '93: RICHARD SEXY-IN-WAITING: JOSH
Kevin Mazur/WireImage; S.Vlasic/Abaca

Richard Gere scored his second Sexiest Man Alive appearance at 50, proving that women really do love a bad boy – no matter what age. At 43, Josh Brolin, the rough-and-tumble star of No Country for Old Men, is crafting a career out of being naughty rather than nice. "He's got a mischievous glint in his eye that lets you know he's up for anything," Brolin's W costar Elizabeth Banks told PEOPLE.

11 of 20

SMA '98: HARRISONSEXY-IN-WAITING: LIAM

SMA '98: HARRISONSEXY-IN-WAITING: LIAM
Rose Prouser/Sipa; Anita Bugge/WireImage

When Ford, then 56, won the title, he told PEOPLE, "I never feel sexy." Female fans, who loved him in Indiana Jones and Sabrina, would beg to differ. At 59, Liam Neeson shares Ford's rugged good looks, humility and charm in movie classics like Schindler's List and the 2010 blockbuster The A-Team.

12 of 20

SMA '96: DENZELSEXY-IN-WAITING: TERRENCE

SMA '96: DENZELSEXY-IN-WAITING: TERRENCE
Everett; Visual Press

Crowned SMA in '96, Oscar-winning star Denzel Washington told PEOPLE at the time, " I don't stop in the mirror and go, 'Hey, Sexy Man.'" That modesty is shared by another Oscar nominee, Terrence Howard, who's letting his work in critically lauded films like Hustle and Flow and Crash speak for themselves.

13 of 20

SMA '92: NICKSEXY-IN-WAITING: JOAQUIN

SMA '92: NICKSEXY-IN-WAITING: JOAQUIN
Ron Galella/WireImage; Michael Ferguson/Photolink

By the time he was crowned SMA, Nolte had shed his real-life bad-boy image and won over moviegoers in '90s blockbusters Lorenzo's Oil and The Prince of Tides. Two decades later, Joaquin Phoenix is keeping audiences on their toes with an Oscar-worthy performance in Walk the Line and his (real or real scary) experimental performance in 2010's I'm Still Here.

14 of 20

SMA '91: PATRICKSEXY-IN-WAITING: CHANNING

SMA '91: PATRICKSEXY-IN-WAITING: CHANNING
Appleby/Stills/Retna; Doug Peters/Empics Entertainment/Abaca

Described as "both a woman's fantasy and a man's man," the late Patrick Swayze became an overnight heartthrob after starring in Dirty Dancing and Ghost. Twenty years later, Channing Tatum has parlayed his role in Step Up into a full Hollywood dance card, with action movies (G.I. Joe) and romantic dramas (Love Letters).

15 of 20

SMA '90: TOMSEXY-IN-WAITING: TAYLOR

SMA '90: TOMSEXY-IN-WAITING: TAYLOR
Terry O'Neill/Getty; Mario Anzuoni/Reuters/Landov

Aside from sharing megawatt smiles and nice-guy personas, Tom Cruise and Taylor Lautner also shared screen time in a promo for the 2010 MTV Awards, where the Twilight hunk got to fist bump with the A-lister (in character as Tropic Thunder's Len Grossman). It was a fitting moment: Lautner once told Empire magazine, "I consider Tom Cruise a real hero of mine, and I'd like to build a career like his; doing dramas, action and comedy."

16 of 20

SMA '89: SEANSEXY-IN-WAITING: GERARD

SMA '89: SEANSEXY-IN-WAITING: GERARD
Melloul Richard/Corbis Sygma; Toni Passig/WireImage

"Bond. James Bond" – those famous words earned Sean Connery a place on PEOPLE's cover – and in women's hearts. Fellow Scotsman Gerard Butler, who's been linked to everyone from Cameron Diaz to Jennifer Aniston, has been equally effective using his own (pick-up) line: "Have you seen 300?"

17 of 20

SMA '88: JOHN JR.SEXY-IN-WAITING: WILLIAM

SMA '88: JOHN JR.SEXY-IN-WAITING: WILLIAM
Araldo Di Crollalanza/Rex USA; Tim Rooke/Rex USA

Considered American royalty, the late John Kennedy drew attention for his exceptional good looks and intriguing personal life – making him the only non-actor ever to land the SMA title. With the late Princess Diana's good looks and royal pedigree, Wiliam is also a true prince among men.

18 of 20

SMA '87: HARRYSEXY-IN-WAITING: STEPHEN

SMA '87: HARRYSEXY-IN-WAITING: STEPHEN
Ron Galella/WireImage; Tsuni/Gamma-USA

With his feathered hair and famous pucker, former L.A. Law hunk Harry Hamlin made legalese a swoon-worthy language women wanted to learn. Flash forward to 2011, Stephen Moyer is turning another bad boy profession – vampire – into every woman's True Blood fantasy.

19 of 20

SMA '86: MARKSEXY-IN-WAITING: PATRICK

SMA '86: MARKSEXY-IN-WAITING: PATRICK
Anne Knudsen/Sygma/Corbis; Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

Nicknamed "Charmin' Harmon," St. Elsewhere star Mark Harmon joked to PEOPLE that one of the perks of his job was, "Women would come up to me and show me their breasts and ask for my opinion." Today's Dr. McDreamy Patrick Dempsey has an equally enthusiastic but tamer fan base, among them daughter Talula. "One day [she] said, 'You're very handsome, Poppy,'" Dempsey told PEOPLE.

20 of 20

SMA '85: MELSEXY-IN-WAITING: RYAN

SMA '85: MELSEXY-IN-WAITING: RYAN
Terry O'Neill/Getty; Tony DiMaio/Abaca

PEOPLE's inaugural Sexiest Man Alive Mel Gibson's rugged good looks took the little-known actor from the Down Under cult classic Mad Max to international stardom. With his tenacity and resilience, True Blood's resident hunk Ryan Kwanten could be poised to become the next big Aussie phenom – and that would be a very g'day, indeed, mate.

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