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How Shady Is the 'Sound of Freedom' Box Office?

By Dustin Rowles | Film | July 24, 2023 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | July 24, 2023 |


Barbenheimer has been attracting most of the attention at the box office this month, but a story that not a lot of folks are talking about is Sound of Freedom, a movie that crossed the $120 million mark over the weekend and, in its third weekend, beat the second weekend of Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible film. Paramount Pictures ponied up $300 million to produce Mission Impossible, whereas Angel Studios crowdfunded nearly $20 million to distribute Sound of Freedom.
What the hell, right?

Sound of Freedom stars Jim Caveziel. It was originally produced by 20th Century and completed in 2018. After Disney bought 20th Century, the studio shelved it. The filmmakers bought it back from Disney and approached Angel Studios to distribute it; the studio put it out to their investors, and they raised the money to distribute it.

Where it gets unique, even bizarre, is that Angel Studios and the film’s star have encouraged others to “pay it forward,” which is to say: Purchase a ticket for someone else to see the film. That strategy has been hugely successful, with thousands of tickets being purchased but remaining unused. As a result, in some cases, theaters show nearly sold-out crowds and only a smattering of attendees. That is to say that Sound of Freedom may have sold as many tickets as Mission Impossible over the weekend, but more people actually watched Mission Impossible over the same period.

Sound of Freedom is essentially an activist film. People are buying tickets — and it is unclear just how many are being bought by the “pay it forward” campaign — to support the film’s message. Ostensibly, it’s a film about child sex trafficking, based on Tim Ballard’s Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.), an anti-sex-trafficking non-profit originally funded by Glenn Beck that conducts sting operations and has been described as a “QAnon-adjacent charity.”

O.U.R. disavows any relationship with QAnon (wink, wink), and Angel Studios likewise disavows any relationship with QAnon (wink, wink), although the star of Sound of Freedom, Jim Caviezel, makes no such disavowals. In fact, while promoting Sound of Freedom, Caviezel said that he has seen evidence of sex-trafficked children being subjected to adrenochrome harvesting. This is the nonexistent practice where adrenaline is extracted from children’s blood to produce the psychoactive drug adrenochrome, which is supposedly given to pedophiles, or as QAnon conspiracists call them, “Democrats.”

Sound of Freedom, in which Caviezel plays Tim Ballard (whose activities have been criticized), is ostensibly about sex trafficking. There are many movies about sex trafficking. This one has made $120 million in three weeks, much of which has come from tickets purchased for no one.

Is there anything necessarily wrong with encouraging viewers to essentially donate $15 to the cause? Not exactly, although those who donate money to pay it forward should understand that the movie theaters receive half that money, which is a boon to the theater industry as they, in some cases, receive half the cost of a ticket without having to service a customer.

The other half goes back to the studio, which has crowdfunded other successful projects like three seasons of Chosen, a Bible story that has been licensed by Netflix and the CW. They’ve also raised $50 million to make an animated film called David, based on the Biblical character.

The irony, of course, is that Zach Braff was nearly chased off of social media for raising $2.6 million for his film I Wish I Was Here, amid criticism that he should use his own money to invest in his own film. Meanwhile, Angel Studios raised $20 million to distribute Sound of Freedom, which meant the studio itself had very little outlay, but has nevertheless received half of the $120 million in proceeds, so far.

The studio is largely owned by the Harmons, a Mormon family in Utah who originally started VidAngel, a service that filters bad words out of movies so that families could show their kids clean versions. The studios sued, and VidAngel not only settled but pivoted into distribution.

Other than the fact they are Mormons, not a lot is known about the Harmon family, although Jeffrey Harmon’s politics are on full display on his Twitter account. He’s essentially a devout Mormon tech bro who is anti-woke, anti-Fauci, pro-Robert F. Kennedy Jr., pro-Tucker Carlson, a big fan of Elon Musk’s Twitter, and deeply into Bitcoin. He’s so deep into Bitcoin that the studio produced a cartoon for kids about Bitcoin called The Tuttle Twins. Jeffrey Harmon is the quintessential 2023 Twitter user.

In other words, the family is rich, and they have figured out how to become richer without having to risk much of their own money. I’m surprised that David Zaslav and Bob Iger haven’t figured out how to do this yet: It’s a good racket if you can get in on it, and Angel Studios doesn’t even have to worry about the strike.

So does that make the box office of Sound of Freedom shady? Personally, I don’t think it’s much different than donating to a PAC, only theaters take half and the other half goes to a studio that is using Sound of Freedom to promote a political ideology. Even if Angel Studios won’t admit to a direct link between the film and QAnon, they’re certainly benefiting from the thousands of QAnon conspiracy theorists who are contributing to the film’s box office.