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The Omega Man

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The Omega Man
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBoris Sagal
Screenplay byJohn William Corrington
Joyce H. Corrington
Based onI Am Legend
1954 novel
by Richard Matheson
Produced byWalter Seltzer
StarringCharlton Heston
Anthony Zerbe
Rosalind Cash
CinematographyRussell Metty
Edited byWilliam H. Ziegler
Music byRon Grainer
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • August 1, 1971 (1971-08-01)
Running time
98 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$4 million (rentals)[2]

The Omega Man (stylized as The Ωmega Man) is a 1971 American post-apocalyptic action film[3] directed by Boris Sagal and starring Charlton Heston as a survivor of a pandemic. It was written by John William Corrington and Joyce Corrington, based on the 1954 novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. The film's producer, Walter Seltzer, went on to work with Heston again in the dystopian science-fiction film Soylent Green in 1973.[4]

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



In March 1975, a Sino-Soviet border conflict escalates into full-scale war in which biological warfare destroys most of the human race. U.S. Army Col. Robert Neville, M.D., is a scientist based in Los Angeles. As he begins to succumb to the plague, he injects himself with an experimental vaccine, rendering him immune.

By August 1977, Neville believes he is the plague's only immune survivor. Struggling to maintain his sanity, he spends his days patrolling the now-desolate Los Angeles, hunting and killing members of "the Family", a cult of plague victims who were turned into homicidal nocturnal albino mutants. Through flashbacks, Neville remembers how martial law was imposed and the majority of people who succumbed to the plague were killed instantly by asphyxiation. At night, living atop a fortified apartment building equipped with an arsenal of weaponry, Neville is a prisoner in his own home. He is besieged by the Family, who seeks to kill him. The Family's attempts to extract Neville from his residence have failed, due in part to their insistence on using archaic weaponry and siege warfare. When not hunting Neville, the Family destroys any remnant of science, blaming technology for the war, hence their reluctance to attempt more modern means to kill Neville.

One day, as Neville is in a department store helping himself to new clothing, he spots a healthy woman, who immediately flees. He pursues her outside, but later chalks it up to imagination; having earlier hallucinated about multiple telephones ringing. He finds the corpse of a Family member and remarks that the final stage of the disease will kill them all.

On another day, the Family finally captures Neville. After a summary trial, he is found guilty of heresy by the Family's leader, Jonathan Matthias, a former news anchorman. Neville is sentenced to death and nearly burned at the stake tied to a large wooden wheel representing modern technology in Dodger Stadium. He is rescued by Lisa, the woman he had earlier dismissed as a hallucination, and Dutch, a former medical student. Lisa and Dutch are part of a group of survivors, none of whom exceed the age of 30. Although their youth has given them some resistance to the disease, they are still vulnerable to it, and will eventually succumb to mutation. Neville realizes salvaging humanity would take years as he will need a long time to duplicate the original vaccine. He believes extending his immunity to others may be possible by creating a serum from his own blood.

Neville and Lisa return to Neville's apartment, where they begin treating Lisa's brother 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 then attacks, sending Matthias' second-in-command, Brother Zachary, 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 apartment to find Zachary right behind an unsuspecting Lisa. Neville shoots him and he falls off the balcony 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 new lives 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 Family's headquarters to Neville (the Los Angeles Civic Center), but insists that the Family is also human and that Neville's cure should be administered to them, as well. Neville disagrees with him, so Richie 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. After finding a note that Richie left, Neville rushes to rescue him, but instead finds his dead body tied to a judge's chair in a courtroom.

Meanwhile, Lisa quickly and unexpectedly succumbs to the disease and becomes one of the Family. Returning home, Neville tells Lisa about Richie's death, but she already knows and has betrayed Neville by giving Matthias and his followers access to Neville's home. 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 gun to shoot Matthias, who is looking down from the balcony. The gun jams, giving Matthias enough time to hurl Zachary's spear at Neville, mortally wounding him. The next morning, Dutch and the survivors discover Neville dying in a fountain. He hands Dutch a flask of the blood serum, and then dies. Dutch takes Lisa (weakened and compliant because of the sunlight) away, and the survivors leave the city forever.





The film differs from the novel (and the previous film) in several ways.[5][6] In the novel, humanity is destroyed by a bacterial plague spread by bats and mosquitoes, which turns the population into vampire-like creatures; whereas, in this film version, biological warfare is the cause of the plague that kills most of the population by asphyxiation 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.[7][8]

In Charlton Heston's autobiography, In the Arena: An Autobiography, he mentioned that the "crucifixion" scene with Neville was not in the original script. As it turns out, the scene was felt to fit quite well into the storyline, so was left in.

Exterior filming took place throughout the Los Angeles area. Neville's house is still on the backlot of the Warner Bros. Ranch.[9] As part of the plot, the filmmakers needed to create a depopulated metropolis. Without CGI, this was accomplished by filming on Sunday mornings in the center of the Los Angeles' business district, which in late 1970 was quiet on early weekend mornings.[10] Despite careful planning by the film crew, some exterior shots captured bystanders and moving cars in the background of some scenes.

Interracial kiss

Charlton Heston and Rosalind Cash about to kiss in a scene from The Omega Man

Whoopi Goldberg (mistakenly) 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[11][12] (in actual fact, several movies had shown interracial kissing long before this, with 1957's Island In The Sun often quoted as being the first mainstream Hollywood movie to do so).[13] In 1992, when Goldberg had her own network interview talk show, she invited Heston to be a guest, and asked him about the kiss. After discussing whether Heston received any flak for the kiss at the time, Goldberg said that she wished that society could get past interracial relationships being an issue, at which point Heston leaned forward and demonstrated on the unsuspecting Goldberg, to her delight.[14][15]

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 particularly prominent in American culture at the time the film was made.[7] 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 that The Omega Man was Cash's first leading role in a film, and that she was understandably "a little edgy" about doing a love scene with him. 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.'"[16]

Deleted scene


The script for The Omega Man contains a scene in which Lisa visits her parents' grave. Unknown to Neville, Lisa is pregnant, and she seeks comfort from her deceased parents before she and Neville 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 their 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.



The film opened at three theaters in Houston in July 1971.[1][17]



At the film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, The Omega Man received mixed reviews, with a combined average positive score of 65% from 34 critics.[18]

Howard Thompson gave a mostly negative review in The New York Times, saying "the climax is as florid and phony as it can be,"[19] while A.D. Murphy of Variety described the film as "an extremely literate science fiction drama."[1] Roger Ebert awarded two stars out of four and found the mutants "a little too ridiculous to quite fulfill their function in the movie."[20] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film one star out of four, writing that director Boris Sagal "must have resembled a juggler trying to keep four dramatic balls aloft. About midway through the film, the balls started bumping into each other, Sagal began to stumble, and by the time the crew was completing the final scene, Sagal was on the floor with the balls bouncing wildly away from his grasp."[21] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the film was "strictly a potboiler, but it's without pretensions and never runs dry. Director Boris Sagal has captured some stark apocalyptic images and gotten some suitably vivid performances. Most importantly, he keeps things moving so fast that there's not enough time to ponder credibility gaps big enough to fly a Boeing 747 through."[22] Tom Shales of The Washington Post wrote, "Director Sagal displays no great affinity for science fiction — he's from TV land — but he generally upholds interest and can certainly handle the shocks and suspense, which are both abundant and enjoyable in a Saturday matinee way."[23]

Director Tim Burton said in an interview for his 2009 Museum of Modern Art 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."[24] In another interview, with the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (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."[25]

As with The Last Man on Earth, The Omega Man wasn't to Richard Matheson's liking; on the other hand, it didn't provoke much of a reaction from the author, either. "The Omega Man was so removed from my book that it didn’t even bother me," Matheson said.[26]

Box office


The film grossed $29,900 in its first week.[17][27] It went on to earn $4 million in theatrical rentals in the United States and Canada.[2]


See also



  1. ^ a b c Murphy, A.D. (August 4, 1971). "Film Reviews – The Omega Man". Variety. p. 18. Retrieved 2011-09-05.
  2. ^ a b "Updated All-time Film Champs". Variety. 9 January 1974. p. 60.
  3. ^ "The Omega Man (1971) - Boris Sagal". AllMovie.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ "The Science-Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review". Moria. Archived from the original on 2012-09-07. Retrieved 2011-09-05.
  6. ^ "Movie Review – Omega Man, The". eFilmCritic. Archived from the original on 2012-03-06. Retrieved 2011-09-05.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ "The Omega Man". terrortrap.com. The Terror Trap. 2008-04-05. Retrieved 2011-09-05.
  9. ^ house on the back lot of Warner Bros. Ranch
  10. ^ Charlton Heston (1995). In the Arena. Simon and Schuster. p. 441. ISBN 0-684-80394-1.
  11. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Goldberg Discussing Interview with Heston". YouTube. Retrieved 2011-09-05.
  12. ^ "Whoopi Goldberg Remembers Charlton Heston; Plants One on Joy|". Huffington Post. 2008-04-07. Retrieved 2011-10-17.
  13. ^ "The first interracial kiss in cinema history". Far Out. 2023-07-15. Retrieved 2024-02-29.
  14. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Goldberg interview with Heston". YouTube producers: Whoopi Goldberg; Tom Leonardis; Edited by: James Jahrsdoerfer. Retrieved 2014-07-29.
  15. ^ "Staying Cool at Whoopi's Talk Show". The New York Times. 1992-11-29. Retrieved 2011-10-17.
  16. ^ Charlton Heston (1995). In the Arena. Simon and Schuster. p. 443. ISBN 0-684-80394-1.
  17. ^ a b "'Omega' Fat $29,900, Houston; 'Sunday' Slick $15,400, 'Richthofen' Fair $4,100". Variety. August 4, 1971. p. 12.
  18. ^ "The Omega Man". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2023-08-21.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ Ebert, Roger. "The Omega Man". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved November 26, 2018 – via RogerEbert.com.
  21. ^ Siskel, Gene (August 24, 1971). "The Omega Man". Chicago Tribune. p. 5, Section 2.
  22. ^ Thomas, Kevin (August 27, 1971). "Heston as Last Man on Earth". Los Angeles Times. p. 11, Part IV.
  23. ^ Shales, Tom (August 19, 1971). "The Omega Man". The Washington Post. p. D18.
  24. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "See minute mark 4:33". Museum of Modern Art interview with director, Tim Burton. 2009-11-09. Retrieved 2011-10-24.
  25. ^ ACMI interviews Tim Burton, discusses The Omega Man on YouTube
  26. ^ Conradt, Stacy (April 30, 2017). "11 Authors Who Hated the Movie Versions of Their Books". mentalfloss.com. Retrieved October 19, 2020.
  27. ^ "50 Top-Grossing Films". Variety. August 11, 1971. p. 15.
  28. ^ Scully, Mike (2006). The Simpsons season 9 DVD commentary for the episode "Treehouse of Horror VIII" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
  29. ^ Robin Wood's characters: Mark Archived 2017-06-28 at the Wayback Machine Robin Wood Comics (in Spanish)
  30. ^ Bob and Doug McKenzie - Strange Brew Clip #1
  31. ^ MST3K The Green Slime (Pilot) KTMA Remastered, 26 November 2016, retrieved 2022-10-17