‘Sound of Freedom,’ a movie about child sex trafficking, has become an unlikely summer hit, drawing interest from conservatives as critics mock its star’s links to QAnon.
The film, a dramatized account of activist Tim Ballard’s efforts to rescue children from the sex trade, has grossed $100 million in US theaters since its July 4 debut, against a production budget of about $14.5 million. Last weekend, he finished in second place behind the new Mission: Impossible. Paramount Picturesgenerating twice the ticket revenue of the latest Indiana Jones movie from Walt Disney Co.
The film, in which the main characters cite spirituality as a reason to fight sexual crimes, has been highly promoted among evangelicals and conservatives. Part of its success also lies in a platform its distributor, Angel Studios, developed called Pay It Forward, which allows donors to buy tickets for strangers who can see the film for free at their local theaters.
The film also sparked controversy, including complaints from some fans that theater chains are sabotaging screenings with equipment breakdowns. AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. CEO Adam Aron has denied this.
Media accounts have noted that the film’s star, Jim Caviezel, has made statements supporting QAnon conspiracy theories about a global cabal of pedophiles. Caviezel has said that QAnon “has nothing to do with our film”. Tom Nunan, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Theater, Film and Television, said the company’s early outreach to conservative and religious groups paid off.
“It’s clear evidence that a filmmaker knows his audience and knows how to reach it,” he said. Jeffrey Harmon, chief marketing officer for Angel Studios, said the social media comments he has read indicate the image is resonating beyond traditional fans of faith-based movies.
The image is the work of filmmakers from Mexico, including actor and producer Eduardo Verástegui and director Alejandro Monteverde. They shot the film in Colombia in 2018, with the backing of several wealthy investors.. 21st Century Fox Corp. held distribution rights before selling most of its entertainment assets to Walt Disney Co. in 2019. The filmmakers reclaimed the rights and contracted with Provo, Utah-based Angel Studios to distribute it in theaters.
Harmon co-founded Angel Studios with his brothers, Neal, who is CEO, and Jordan, who is Chairman. They had previously run VidAngel, a streaming service that removes sex, violence and profanity from movies. Hollywood studios, including Disney and Fox, sued VidAngel for distributing their images without authorization.
VidAngel filed for bankruptcy and was sold, but the brothers gained experience marketing faith-based content like The Chosen, a series about the life of Jesus that has been featured in theaters and on streaming services. like netflix.
To promote Sound of Freedom, Angel Studios raised $5 million from investors. While backers can get 120% of their money back, their greatest service has been as evangelists for the film, according to Harmon. “Those people become their advocates,” Harmon said. “They take people to the theater even if they only put in $50.”
Angel Studios also gave out screen prints of the film to conservative commentators and social media influencers. Former President Donald Trump hosted a screening in New Jersey this week. Churches are also being given that option.
When a particular city or theater sees an increase in ticket sales, Angel Studios doubles down on local marketing, which includes social media and traditional media. Harmon said that’s a trick he picked up earlier this year when His Only Son, a movie about the biblical figure Abraham, did very well in theaters in New York and Philadelphia, which aren’t the usual hotspots for religious films.
At a recent screening of Sound of Freedom Tuesday night in Los Angeles, AMC’s website showed that the theater was full, but some seats were empty. Some guests arrived as late as 50 minutes after the movie’s start time.
A spokesperson for Angel Studios said bulk sales to businesses, churches and other groups may result in no shows. Two college students at the screening said they saw an Instagram ad for free tickets and took advantage of the company’s Pay It Forward ticket option.
At the end of the film, lead actor Caviezel, famous for playing Jesus in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, appears in a special message thanking the audience for coming and urging them to donate to the Pay It Forward feature on the Angel Studios website. “We believe this film has the power to go a long way toward ending child trafficking,” he said. “We don’t want lack of funding to be the reason someone doesn’t see this movie.”