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October 25, 1999

'The Omega Code': A Sleeper Movie

Awakened by a Hungry Audience

By RICK LYMAN


HOLLYWOOD -- "The Omega Code," a $7.2 million thriller starring Michael York, Casper Van Dien and Catherine Oxenburg that blindsided Hollywood a week ago by sneaking under the radar to earn $2.4 million during its opening weekend in only 305 theaters around the country, despite a national marketing budget of only $600,000 and a smattering of reviews that were, well, not particularly kind. The film took in an average of $7,869 a theater, the highest for any of that weekend's films and a figure called "eye-popping" by The Hollywood Reporter.

"The Omega Code" is about an apocalyptic battle between good and evil that draws its inspiration from prophecies in the Book of Revelations, grafting onto them a standard-issue plot with a hero, a villain and a pretty girl. The idea, Crouch said, was to make an intense, traditional Hollywood thriller that would appeal initially to conservative Christian audiences, but without being so overbearing as to scare away those who do not normally tune into a right-wing Christian message.

The Internet was also heavily used. An "Omega Code" Web site (www.omegacode.com) has been receiving 12,000 e-mails a day in recent weeks, Crouch said, and Internet chat rooms devoted to religious topics have been inundated with chatter about the movie.

"I am stunned with the Internet," Harpster said. "One of the things they did on the TBN Web page is they let people download posters of the movie and a scriptural guide. One day we got 500,000 hits and 150,000 people downloaded that stuff. I mean, we had people printing them out at home and then taking them to Kinko's and having copies run off so they could plaster them all over their town."

The movie remained on 305 screens in its second week, but will expand this coming weekend to 30 more cities, then a bit more the next weekend until by the end of November it is to be on 450 screens, Harpster said.

Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company

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