Who Can Learn From the Box-Office Success of ‘Sound of Freedom’?

A24’s “Everything Everywhere All at Once” was a surprise hit at the box office in 2022 and became the best non-major studio release since the pandemic started, only to add to its acumen by sweeping the Oscars, winning best picture, among its six other awards.

But commercially speaking, a new domestic — and unexpected — champion has emerged.

Angel Studios’ “Sound of Freedom,” a film inspired by the work of anti-human trafficking figure Tim Ballard, passed the $80 million mark domestically in just under two weeks and now sits at more than $90 million, a sign the film is likely to be the first non-traditional studio effort to hit the $100 million mark across the U.S. and Canada.

The timing of this is especially significant. The July 4 window is typically reserved for major studio tentpoles, and while “Everything Everywhere” was a notable word-of-mouth success, it also benefited from a wide release in late March 2022 that saw little competition from the major studios after Warner Bros.’ “The Batman” had dominated the month.

By contrast, the debut of “Sound of Freedom” was situated between Disney’s “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” and part one of Paramount’s “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning,” but the film has yet to lose audiences’ interest amid such competition.

“Sound of Freedom” is budgeted at $14.5 million, making it a profitable success as studios’ heavy tentpole spending has backfired when it comes to earning back production and marketing budgets. The film also stars Jim Caviezel, whose public association with the QAnon conspiracy movement, which purports that a cabal of satanic child abusers and traffickers operates within the U.S. government and sought to undermine Donald Trump’s presidency, has only added to the controversy surrounding the film.

It’s worth noting “Sound of Freedom” was originally shot in 2018, before QAnon gained mainstream traction, but the practices of Ballard’s Operation Underground Railroad have drawn criticism for false claims before, and the organization says he has since stepped away from it.

While Caviezel hasn’t been a leading man in major productions for quite some time, he is still most famous for his portrayal of Jesus Christ in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” which was a global success to the tune of more than $600 million in 2004 and the kind of turnout that has evaded today’s slew of faith-based films.

Christian films that typically target Middle America states rarely bring in more than $10 million domestically without major stars. “American Underdog” and “Father Stu” were led by Zachary Levi and Mark Wahlberg, respectively, and both managed to pass $20 million domestically after being released in the last two years.

However, Lionsgate’s “Jesus Revolution,” produced by faith-based entertainment prodco Kingdom Story Co., brought in more than $50 million in February, the most of any Christian film in recent years.

“Sound of Freedom” distributor Angel Studios isn’t a self-proclaimed Christian organization. Spawned from VidAngel, a legally complicated filtering service that allows users to select content they want removed from what they stream, it was launched in 2021 by a quartet of Mormon brothers, but the company is mostly known for crowdfunded projects revolving around Christian themes and stories, such as “The Chosen,” a self-released TV series adaptation of the Bible that first debuted on its own website in 2019.

Like VidAngel, Angel Studios was active in the VOD space, but decent turnout for limited theatrical releases of select “Chosen” episodes in 2021 and 2022 undoubtedly caused the company to change its tune, as it launched its first full theatrical run for a movie with “His Only Son” in February. At just $12 million domestically, it was still one of the more successful Christian-media releases at the box office.

The success of “Sound of Freedom” is bound to be a resounding call for others to utilize the theatrical market. Conservative media company the Daily Wire, co-founded by political commentator Ben Shapiro, boldly announced its foray into scripted content with 2021’s active-shooter flick “Run Hide Fight” but keeps its films confined to its own Daily Wire+ streaming service.

While the Daily Wire does schedule live debuts for its films on YouTube, they aren’t available to rent or purchase thereafter, a business decision that runs in stark contrast to Angel Studios, which not only offers its library on VOD but has licensed “The Chosen” to Peacock and Netflix.

Since “Run Hide Fight,” the Daily Wire has only released three scripted films, the last of which, “Terror on the Prairie,” bowed in June 2022. That film was the culmination of a deal set up with star Gina Carano after her abrupt firing from Disney’s “The Mandalorian” following multiple political posts on social media that were deemed controversial.

Still, “Terror on the Prairie” was far from a streaming calling card. Like Hollywood, Daily Wire keeps viewing numbers close to its chest, but it did disclose that Daily Wire+ had reached a million subscribers in November 2022, well below that of less popular major services like Peacock, which has more than 22 million. 

Daily Wire appears is pivoting more towards its own spin on children’s content and other series programming, having locked down rights for the likes of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.” Today, its streaming library is mostly dominated by non-scripted content in line with the company’s penchant for right-wing news commentary, particularly “What Is a Woman?” That self-described documentary is widely considered to be propagandistic and distortive toward its transgender-related subject matter and therefore popular with those embracing culture-war positions, Elon Musk among them.

If Angel Studios is having such a good turn in theaters, the Daily Wire should at least consider testing those waters if it wants to live up to its declarative statement to take on Hollywood. Then perhaps it can nab star power with more heft, as “Sound of Freedom” is reaping great rewards from doing so. 

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