In Rome, American diplomat Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) is in a hospital where his wife Katherine (Lee Remick) gives birth to a boy, who—he is told—dies moments after being born. Robert is convinced by the hospital chaplain, Father Spiletto (Martin Benson), to secretly adopt an orphan whose mother died at the same time. Robert agrees, but does not reveal to his wife that the child is not theirs. They name the child Damien (Harvey Spencer Stephens). Then, Robert is appointed U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom. Mysterious events plague the Thorns: large black dogs congregate near the Thorn home; Damien's nanny publicly hangs herself at his fifth birthday party; a new nanny, Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw), arrives unannounced to replace her; the five-year old Damien violently resists entering a church; and zoo animals are terrified of Damien.
Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton), a Catholic priest, tries repeatedly to warn the Ambassador about Damien's mysterious origins, hinting that Damien may not be human. The priest later tells Robert that Katherine is pregnant and that Damien will prevent her from having the child. Afterward, Brennan is impaled and killed by a lightning rod thrown from the roof of a church during a sudden storm. Upon returning home, Katherine tells Robert that she is pregnant and wants an abortion. Learning of Father Brennan's death, photographer Keith Jennings (David Warner) begins investigating Damien. He notices shadows in photographs of the nanny and of Father Brennan that seem to presage their bizarre deaths. Photos of Keith also show these shadows. Keith shows Robert the photos and tells him he also believes that Damien is a threat and that he wants to help Robert. While Robert is away, Damien knocks Katherine over an upstairs railing to the floor below, causing her to miscarry.
Keith and Robert travel to Rome to investigate Damien's birth. A fire destroyed the hospital records and the maternity and nursery wards five years earlier; most of the staff on duty died in the fire. Robert and Keith trace Father Spiletto to St. Benedict's Abbey in Subiaco, where he is recuperating from his injuries. Stricken mute, blind in his right eye and paralyzed in his right arm, Spiletto writes the name of an ancient Etruscan cemetery in Cerveteri, where Damien's biological mother is buried. Robert and Keith find a jackal carcass in the grave, and in the child's grave next to it, a child's skeleton with a shattered skull. These are Damien's unnatural "mother" and the remains of the Thorns' own child, murdered at birth so that Damien could take his place. Keith reiterates Father Brennan's belief that Damien is the Antichrist, whose coming is being supported by a conspiracy of Satanists. A pack of wild dogs, similar to ones seen near the Thorn's mansion, drive Robert and Keith out of the cemetery.
Back in London, Mrs. Baylock persuades a nurse to allow her access to Katherine, who is heavily sedated and under police protection. Once inside the room, Mrs. Baylock pushes Katherine out of the window, and Katherine lands on the roof of an ambulance, killing her. Robert and Keith travel to Israel to find Carl Bugenhagen (Leo McKern), an archaeologist and expert on the Antichrist. Bugenhagen explains that if Damien is the Antichrist he will possess a birthmark in the shape of three sixes, under his hair if nowhere else. Robert learns that the only way to kill the Antichrist is with seven mystical daggers from Megiddo. Appalled by the idea of murdering a child, Robert discards the daggers. When Keith tries to retrieve them, he is decapitated by a sheet of window glass sliding off a truck, matching the shadow across his neck which had presaged his death.
Returning home, Robert examines Damien for the birthmark, finding it on the child's scalp. Mrs. Baylock attacks him and, in the ensuing struggle, Robert kills her. He loads Damien and the daggers into a car and drives to the nearest church. Due to his erratic driving, he is followed by the police, who arrive as he is dragging the screaming child to the altar. An officer orders him to raise his hands and stand away. Robert raises the first dagger and the officer fires his gun. The double funeral of Katherine and Robert is attended by the President of the United States, who now has custody of a smiling Damien. Just before the credits roll, Revelation 13:18 Appears "Here is wisdom, let him that hath understanding, count the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man and his number is 666."
According to producer Harvey Bernhard, the idea of a motion picture about the Antichrist came from Bob Munger, a friend of Bernhard's. When Munger told him about the idea back in 1973, the producer immediately contacted screenwriter David Seltzer and hired him to write a screenplay. It took a year for Seltzer to write the entire script.
The movie was considered by Warner Bros, who thought it might be ideal for Oliver Reed.
According to Richard Donner, Lee Remick's reaction during the baboon scene was authentic.
Bernhard claims Gregory Peck had been the choice to portray Ambassador Thorn from the beginning. Peck got involved with the project through his agent, who was friends with producer Harvey Bernhard. After reading the script, Peck reportedly liked the idea that it was more of a psychological thriller rather than a horror film and agreed to star in it.
Despite Bernhard's claim, William Holden was also considered for the role. Holden turned it down, claiming he didn’t want to star in a film about the Devil. Holden later would portray Thorn's brother, Richard, in the sequel, Damien: Omen II (1978). A firm offer was made to Charlton Heston on July 19, 1975. He turned the part down on July 27, not wanting to spend an entire winter alone in Europe and also concerned that the film might have an exploitative feel if not handled carefully. Roy Scheider and Dick Van Dyke were also considered for the role of Robert Thorn.
Filming began in October 1975 and wrapped in late-January 1976. Scenes were shot on location in Bishops Park in Fulham, London.
An original score for the film, including the movie's theme song "Ave Satani," was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, for which he received the only Oscar of his long career. The score features a strong choral segment, with a foreboding Latin chant. The refrain to the chant is, "Sanguis bibimus, corpus edimus, tolle corpus Satani," Latin for, "We drink the blood, we eat the flesh, raise the body of Satan," interspersed with cries of "Ave Satani!" and "Ave Versus Christus" (Latin, "Hail, Satan!" and "Hail, Antichrist!"). Aside from the choral work, the score includes lyrical themes portraying the pleasant home life of the Thorn family, which are contrasted with the more disturbing scenes of the family's confrontation with evil.
All music composed by Jerry Goldsmith.
For the film's 25th anniversary, a deluxe version of the soundtrack was released with eight additional tracks.
All music composed by Jerry Goldsmith.
A limited edition soundtrack was released for the film's 40th anniversary with six additional tracks and a bonus track.
All music composed by Jerry Goldsmith.
The Omen was released following a successful $2.8 million marketing campaign inspired by the one from Jaws one year prior, with two weeks of sneak previews, a novelization by screenwriter David Seltzer, and the logo with "666" inside the film's title as the centerpiece of the advertisement. The film was a massive commercial success in the United States. It grossed $4,273,886 in its opening weekend and $60,922,980 domestically on a tight budget of $2.8 million. The film was the fifth highest-grossing movie of 1976.
The Omen received generally positive reviews from critics and was considered one of the best films of 1976. Today it is widely acclaimed as one of the best horror films ever made. The film holds an 86% "Certified Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes. The movie boasted a particularly disturbing scene, in which a character willingly and joyfully hangs herself at a birthday party attended by young children. It also features a violent decapitation scene (caused by a horizontal sheet of plate glass), one of mainstream Hollywood's first: "If there were a special Madame Defarge Humanitarian Award for best decapitation," wrote Kim Newman in Nightmare Movies (1988), "this lingering, slow-motion sequence would get my vote."
The Omen was ranked number 81 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Thrills, and the score by Jerry Goldsmith was nominated for AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores. The film was ranked #16 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments. Similarly, the Chicago Film Critics' Association named it the 31st scariest film ever made.
The film received numerous accolades for its acting, writing, music and technical achievements. Jerry Goldsmith won the Academy Award for Best Original Score and received an additional nomination for Best Original Song for "Ave Satani". Goldsmith's score was also nominated for a Grammy award for Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture. Billie Whitelaw was nominated for a BAFTA film award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance. She was also awarded the Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Actress. The film also received recognition by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Harvey Stephens was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Acting Debut – Male. David Seltzer's original screenplay was nominated by the Writers Guild of America for Best Drama Written Directly for the Screen and for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Motion Picture. The film was nominated for the Saturn Award for Best Horror Film and Gregory Peck received the Saturn Award for Best Actor in a Horror Film. Gilbert Taylor won the Best Cinematography Award from the British Society of Cinematographers.
The film was spoofed in Mad Magazine #189, March 1977, as "The Ominous"—written by Dick DeBartolo with art by Harry North—and on Saturday Night Live as "The Ointment".
In 1998, Damien appeared in an episode of South Park, confronting Jesus Christ, but he makes friends with the gang, except Eric Cartman. In its tenth season, South Park also used an excerpt from Goldsmith's score at the end of the episode "Tsst".
The novel Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett satirizes the apocalypse and several events of the film, including the baby swap.
The protagonist in the short story 'Moment of Truth' by Wayne Stellini, published in Offset (no. 14), is named Damien. He awaits the assistance of the diplomatic Mr. Thorn, whom he internally refers to as The Man, to get him out of trouble.
Outside the United States, The Omen was titled into other languages. The Spanish-speaking countries used the title La profecía. Italian versions title it Il presagio, while the DVD title adds to such a title (in the form of Omen - Il presagio.) The German version of the film is titled Das Omen. The title Pretkazanje was used in the Serbian-/Croatian-speaking countries. De vervloeking is the Flemish version, shown in Belgium. Tegnet is in the Danish language and was used for the Denmark release. The titles Ennustus (Finnish) and Spådom (Swedish) are versions that circulated in Finland. La malédiction was used as the French title in France, Luxembourg and the Canadian province of Quebec. Sweden, Japan and Poland simply showed it under Omen. It was released in Turkey as Kehanet and Ómen in Hungary. Zenklas was the title used in Lithuania. In Tamil, the movie titled, Jenma Natchathiram, was influenced by The Omen. In Brazil, it's called A Profecia; in Portugal, O Génio do Mal.David Seltzer, The Omen. (Futura, 1976).
Joseph Howard, Damien: Omen II. (Futura, 1978).
Gordon McGill, Omen III: The Final Conflict. (Futura, 1980).
Gordon McGill, Omen IV: Armageddon 2000. (Futura, 1983).
Gordon McGill, Omen V: The Abomination. (Futura, 1985).
Both The Omen and its novelization were written by David Seltzer (the book preceded the movie by two weeks as a marketing gimmick). For the book, Seltzer augmented some plot points and character backgrounds and changed minor details (such as character names — Holly becomes Chessa Whyte, Keith Jennings becomes Haber Jennings, Father Brennan becomes Father Edgardo Emilio Tassone). The second and third novels were more direct adaptations of those films' screenplays. Gordon McGill retroactively changed the time period of The Omen to the 1950s in order to make The Final Conflict (featuring an adult Damien) take place explicitly in the 1980s.
The fourth novel, Omen IV: Armageddon 2000, was entirely unrelated to the fourth movie, but continued the story of Omen III following the one-night stand between Damien Thorn and Kate Reynolds in that film. This affair included an act of sodomy and thence Kate gave rectal "birth" to another diabolical entity called "the Abomination" in the Omen IV novel. This novel attempted to address the apparent contradiction of whether the Antichrist could be slain by just one of the "Seven Sacred Daggers of Megiddo" as premised in Omen III, or only by all of them as stated in the first book and film. According to Omen IV, one dagger could kill Damien's body but not his soul, which complies loosely with the explanation given in the original film. Damien's acolyte Paul Buher (played by Robert Foxworth in the second movie) is a major character in the fourth book and achieves redemption in its climax.
Omen V: The Abomination begins with a "memorial" listing all of the characters who had been killed throughout the saga up to that point and cements Damien's life in the period of 1950–1982. The novel closes with the chronicle of Damien's life about to be written by the character Jack Mason. Its last few lines are identical to the beginning of David Seltzer's novel, thus bringing the story full circle.