Fact check: 1963 movie did not predict the 'Omicron Variant'

The claim: Image shows poster for a 1963 Italian movie called 'The Omicron Variant'

As more cases of the new COVID-19 omicron variant are discovered in the United States, some social media users are claiming a film predicted the mutation almost 60 years ago.

"An Italian film from 1963," reads a Dec. 1 Facebook post's caption. Accompanying it is an image of an apparent movie poster with the title, "The Omicron Variant," written in bold, yellow letters.

The Facebook post was shared 300 times within one day, and other versions have spread more widely. On Twitter, a Dec. 2 post of the same image was retweeted more than 1,700 times in less than 24 hours. Versions of the post have also been shared in Spanish on Facebook. 

"Predictive programming from years gone by always comes true," one commenter wrote on Facebook.

"I would say I'm shocked but I would be lying," another one wrote.

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But the poster is not for an Italian movie from the 1960s. The image was digitally altered using a poster from a 1974 movie. The title relating the poster to the omicron variant was created as a joke.

USA TODAY reached out to the poster for comment.

Photo digitally altered

Becky Cheatle created the image and other similar ones with Photoshop, she said in a Nov. 28 tweet. She intended it as a joke, she told USA TODAY in a Twitter message.

"That's my handiwork," she said. "I made them as (a joke) just because I felt 'the omicron variant' sounded like a 70s sci-fi movie title." 

Although Cheatle posted the image with a clear disclaimer that it was a digital alteration and later clarified again it was made as a joke, social media users sharing her work haven't done the same. The image is being presented as a real movie poster.

Cheatle confirmed the poster she based her alteration on was from the 1974 movie "Phase IV." A poster from 1979, when the movie was released in Spain, shows the same pictures, tagline and actors listed at the bottom. 

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The movie is a science fiction horror story about "super-intelligent ants" attacking a scientific installation in the Arizona desert.

While there is no movie called "The Omicron Variant," there was an Italian movie released in 1963 with a similar name. But it doesn't have anything to do with the virus, either. 

"Omicron," also a science fiction movie, tells the story of an alien from Mars who takes over a human body, according to a New York Times article from the time.

Our rating: Altered

Based on our research, we rate ALTERED the claim that an image shows the poster for a 1963 Italian movie called "The Omicron Variant." The image of a 1974 movie poster was photoshopped to show that title.

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