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10/19/99- Updated 06:19 PM ET

Sleeper 'Omega' cracks Hollywood code

By Claudia Puig, USA TODAY

Pastors in Dallas, Atlanta and Portland, Ore., each bought 1,000 advance movie tickets to distribute to their congregations. An Oklahoma CEO purchased 1,000 tickets for his employees. A Los Angeles woman gave out 1,600 tickets to youth groups, who arrived by the busload.

But Hollywood didn't have a clue.

Moviegoers turned out in droves over the weekend for The Omega Code, a Christian suspense thriller starring Michael York, Casper Van Dien and Catherine Oxenberg. It burst into the box office pantheon at No. 10, grossing $2.4 million. Theaters were packed; hence the whopping $7,745 per screen average, the highest of all the Top 10 movies.

"There have been so many movies from bigger studios with bigger stars and bigger marketing campaigns that didn't open as big as The Omega Code," says Gitesh Pandya, editor of the Box Office Guru Web site. "They're really almost beating the studios at their own game."

Though it's doubtful that Hollywood studios - the ultimate copycats - will rush out and make their own spiritual screen sagas, the industry has definitely taken notice.

"If the Christian Coalition gets together and wants to back a movie, there's nothing wrong with that," says Tom Sherak, whose 20th Century Fox has Fight Club, the weekend's No. 1 film. "I don't think it's a threat to Hollywood. I think it's good. We need all kinds of movies."

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