The Omega Man

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The Omega Man
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Boris Sagal
Produced by Walter Seltzer
Screenplay by John William Corrington
Joyce H. Corrington
Based on I Am Legend 
by Richard Matheson
Starring Charlton Heston
Anthony Zerbe
Rosalind Cash
Music by Ron Grainer
Cinematography Russell Metty
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • August 1, 1971 (1971-08-01)
Running time 98 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $4,000,000 (rentals)[1]

The Omega Man is a 1971 American science fiction film directed by Boris Sagal and starring Charlton Heston. It was written by John William Corrington and Joyce Corrington, based on the 1954 novel I Am Legend by the American writer Richard Matheson. The film's producer was Walter Seltzer, who went on to work with Heston again in the dystopian science fiction film Soylent Green in 1973.[2]

The Omega Man is the second adaptation of Matheson's novel, the first being The Last Man on Earth (1964) which starred Vincent Price. A third adaptation, I Am Legend starring Will Smith, was released in 2007.[3]

The film differs from the novel (and the previous film) in several ways.[4][5] In the novel the cause of the demise of humanity is a plague spread by bacteria, turning the population into vampire-like creatures, whereas in this film version biological warfare is the cause of the plague which kills most of the population and turns most of the rest into nocturnal albino-mutants. Screenwriter Joyce Corrington holds a doctorate in chemistry and felt that this was more suitable for an adaptation.[6][7]


In March 1975, biological warfare between the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union kills most of the world's population. U.S. Army Col. Robert Neville, M.D. (Charlton Heston), a scientist based in Los Angeles, begins to succumb to the ensuing plague but manages to inject himself with an experimental vaccine just in time, rendering himself immune. Meanwhile, the plague's surviving victims in Los Angeles, join together as "The Family," a cult of crazed nocturnal albino mutants who seek to destroy all technology due to science being the instrument of humanity's downfall.

Two years later in August 1977, Neville believes he is the plague's only survivor. Struggling to maintain his sanity, he spends his days patrolling the deserted city, hunting and destroying members of the Family in the near impossible task of locating their headquarters alone in the massive city of Los Angeles, hoping to end their threat once and for all. At night, living atop a fortified apartment building equipped with an arsenal of weaponry, he is a prisoner in his own home. The Family wants to kill him, believing him to be a last remnant of the old culture.

One day, as Neville is in a department store helping himself to new clothing, he spots a woman who quickly runs away. He chases her into an overgrown park, but later decides he is seeing things and dismisses the sighting.

On another day, the Family finally captures Neville. After a summary trial he is found guilty of heresy by Jonathan Matthias (Anthony Zerbe), a former news anchor who is now leader of the Family. Neville is sentenced to death and nearly burned at the stake in Dodger Stadium. He is rescued by Lisa (Rosalind Cash), the woman he had earlier dismissed as a hallucination, and Dutch (Paul Koslo), a former medical student familiar with Neville's work.

Lisa and Dutch are part of a group of survivors, some of whom are young children. Although infected, their youth has given them some resistance to the disease and its symptoms are slow to manifest. Nevertheless, given enough time, they will succumb to mutation. Neville realizes that even if it is possible to duplicate the original vaccine, it would take years to salvage humanity. However, he believes it may be possible to extend his immunity to others by creating a serum from his own body.

Neville, Lisa, and Lisa's teenage brother Richie (Eric Laneuville) return to Neville's apartment where they begin treating Richie who is succumbing to the disease. Neville and Lisa are about to have a romantic evening together just as the generator runs out of fuel and the lights go off. The Family decides to attack, sending Brother Zachary (Lincoln Kilpatrick) to climb up the outside of Neville's building to the open balcony of his apartment. Neville leaves Lisa upstairs as he goes to the basement garage to restart the generator. Neville returns to the living quarters to find Zachary right behind an unsuspecting Lisa. Neville shoots him and he falls back out the window to his death, dropping his spear on the balcony as he goes.

If the serum works, Neville and Lisa plan to leave the ravaged city with the rest of the survivors and start a new life in the wilderness, leaving the Family behind to die. Neville is successful in creating the serum and administers it to Richie. Once cured, Richie reveals the location of The Family's headquarters to Neville during a disagreement, insisting that members of the Family are also human and that Neville's cure can be administered to them as well. Richie, at odds with Neville's 'shoot first and ask questions later' approach towards Matthias and his followers, goes to the Family by himself to try to convince them to take the serum. Matthias refuses to believe that Neville would try to help them, accuses Richie of being sent to spy on them and has him executed. Neville discovers Richie’s body and, enraged, he fights off the Family after they force his car off the road.

Meanwhile, Lisa quickly and unexpectedly succumbs to the disease and becomes an albino. She betrays Neville by giving the Family access to his apartment. Returning home, Neville reluctantly tells Lisa about Richie's death, but she already knows, having allowed Matthias and his followers access to Neville's quarters. Matthias, who finally has the upper hand, forces Neville to watch as the Family sets his home and equipment on fire. Neville breaks free and, once outside with Lisa, he turns and raises his sub-machine gun to shoot Matthias, who is looking down from the balcony. The gun jams, giving Matthias enough time to hurl Zachery's spear at Neville, mortally wounding him. The final scene shows the human survivors, led by Dutch, departing in a Land Rover. They discover a dying Neville lying in a fountain, who hands Dutch a flask of the blood serum, and then dies. Dutch takes Lisa and the survivors away as they leave the city for good.


Interracial kiss[edit]

Screen shot of actors Charlton Heston and Rosalind Cash about to kiss in a scene from The Omega Man

Whoopi Goldberg has remarked that the kiss between the characters played by Charlton Heston and Rosalind Cash was one of the first interracial kisses to appear in a movie.[8][9] Subsequently in 1992 when Goldberg had her own network interview talk show, she invited Charlton Heston to be a guest and asked him about the kiss in The Omega Man. Heston stated that he received a lot of hassle for it at the time because it was considered controversial. When Goldberg asked him what it was like to kiss Rosalind Cash, Heston leaned forward and demonstrated on the unsuspecting Goldberg. The unscripted moment took everyone off guard, particularly Goldberg, who reverted to as if she were a "16 year old" since she had grown up watching Heston and viewed him as a screen legend.[10] (Heston's roles included playing Moses in 1956's The Ten Commandments and as the lead in 1959's Ben-Hur, among other prominent roles before entering into science fiction with 1968's Planet of the Apes).

Screenwriter Joyce H. Corrington stated that in developing the script for The Omega Man, the character of Lisa, played by Rosalind Cash, was created due to the rise of the Black Power movement, which was prominent in American culture by the time the film was made.[6] She goes on to remark that this created an effective and interesting dynamic between the characters of Lisa and Neville.

Heston wrote in his autobiography, In the Arena, that The Omega Man was the first leading role in a film for actress Rosalind Cash, and that she was understandably "a little edgy" about doing a love scene with Heston. Heston explained, "It was in the seventies that I realized a generation of actors had grown up who saw me in terms of the iconic roles they remembered from their childhoods. 'It's a spooky feeling,' she told me, 'to screw Moses.'"[11]


The film review website Rotten Tomatoes lists The Omega Man as having mixed reviews, with a score of 59%.[12] For example, Howard Thompson gave a mostly negative review in The New York Times, saying "the climax is as florid and phony as it can be,"[13] while the staff of Variety (magazine) described the film as "an extremely literate science fiction drama."[14]

Director Tim Burton said in an interview for his 2009 MoMA exhibit that “If I was alone on a desert island I’d probably pick something that I could relate to – probably The Omega Man with Charlton Heston. I don’t know why that is one of my favorite movies, but it is.”[15] In another interview, with ACMI, Burton remarked that no matter how many times he has seen it, if it is on television he will stop to watch it. He said that when he originally saw The Omega Man, it was the first instance that he recalls seeing the use of certain types of "cheesy one-liners" in film. The film is full of irony-tinged one-liners that are spoken in a manner to elicit a comic response. Burton compares these to the famous one-liners in Arnold Schwarzenegger's film career, such as "I'll be back."[16] An example of this is a scene in which Neville visits a car dealership in order to get a car to replace the one that he had just wrecked. While speaking to the long-dead salesman sitting at his desk, Neville replies, "Uh-huh, alright, how much will you give me in trade for my Ford? Oh really? Thanks a lot, you cheating bastard!" At that point, Neville peels out, driving through what remains of the dealership front entrance.[17]

Deleted scene[edit]

The script for The Omega Man contains a scene where Lisa goes to visit her parents' grave. Unknown to Neville, Lisa is pregnant, and she goes to seek comfort from her deceased parents before they leave the city forever. While Lisa is talking to her parents' grave, she hears a sound and investigates a crypt. In it, she spots a female Family member depositing a dead newborn mutant. Lisa can see the mother's grief and empathizes with the woman's loss despite them being on different sides. Lisa believes that all children, including her unborn baby, will suffer the same fate. Later, Lisa returns to Neville and tells him of the woman in the crypt. Neville asks Lisa if she "took care" of things and Lisa responds that since she may be a grieving parent in a few months, she will not kill a grief-stricken mother. Neville is shocked at first but then embraces Lisa.

While the scene was cut from the final film, the screen credit for "Woman in Cemetery Crypt" remains.

Emptying out Los Angeles[edit]

The movie takes place in Los Angeles and as part of the plot the city is supposed to be void of human activity except for Neville. A number of tricks were used to make the city appear deserted. This objective was accomplished in part by simply filming on a Sunday morning in the center of L.A.'s business district, when pedestrian movement is limited.[18] Despite careful planning by the film crew, there are instances in which bystanders were captured on film in the distance and appear briefly in scenes. There are also brief shots of working traffic lights as the main character drives around Los Angeles, which would not be the case as the collapse of civilization would mean no electricity.

See also[edit]

  • Survival film, about the film genre, with a list of related films


  1. ^ "Updated All-time Film Champs", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 60.
  2. ^ Nelson, Valerie J. (2011-02-20). "Walter Seltzer dies at 96; former Hollywood press agent made a successful leap to producing". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-04-17. 
  3. ^ The Asylum also released their low-budget straight-to-DVD version, I Am Omega, featuring Mark Dacascos, in 2007 (though neither Matheson's name or novel was credited as source material for this version).
  4. ^ "The Science-Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review". Moria. Retrieved 2011-09-05. 
  5. ^ "Movie Review – Omega Man, The". eFilmCritic. Retrieved 2011-09-05. 
  6. ^ a b The Omega Man Special Feature: ““Introduction by Joyce H. Corrington (Screenwriter), Paul Koslo (“Dutch”), and Eric Laneuville (“Richie”)” 2003. Warner Brothers Letterbox DVD 2007.
  7. ^ "The Omega Man". The Terror Trap. 2008-04-05. Retrieved 2011-09-05. 
  8. ^ "Goldberg Discussing Interview with Heston". YouTube. Retrieved 2011-09-05. 
  9. ^ "Whoopi Goldberg Remembers Charlton Heston; Plants One on Joy|". Huffington Post. 2008-04-07. Retrieved 2011-10-17. 
  10. ^ "Staying Cool at Whoopi's Talk Show". New York Times. 1992-11-29. Retrieved 2011-10-17. 
  11. ^ Charlton Heston. In the Arena. Simon and Schuster. p. 443. ISBN 0-684-80394-1. 
  12. ^ "The Omega Man". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2011-09-05. 
  13. ^ Thompson, Howard (August 14, 1971). "The Omega Man (1971) Screen: All Alone in L.A.:Charlton Heston Stars in 'The Omega Man'". The New York Times. 
  14. ^ "Variety Reviews – The Omega Man – Film Reviews – Review by Variety Staff". 1970-12-31. Retrieved 2011-09-05. 
  15. ^ "See minute mark 4:33". Museum of Modern Art interview with director, Tim Burton. 2009-11-09. Retrieved 2011-10-24. 
  16. ^ ACMI interviews Tim Burton, discusses The Omega Man on YouTube
  17. ^ "Charlton Heston – Omega Man – Thanks a lot". YouTube. 2010-03-02. Retrieved 2011-09-05. 
  18. ^ Charlton Heston. In the Arena. Simon and Schuster. p. 441. ISBN 0-684-80394-1. 

External links[edit]