Jim Caviezel’s child trafficking drama “Sound of Freedom” from faith-based distributor Angel Studios grossed $14.2 million in a single day when it opened on July 4th. the film was backed by prominent right-wing pundits (and Donald Trump himself), and opened on a rare Tuesday after “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” had five days to cool down.
But the film’s real godsend is the ability for “Sound of Freedom” fans to buy movie tickets for complete strangers.
Angel Studios calls it “Pay It Forward,” where you can buy one ticket to “Sound of Freedom,” pay for another, and someone else can request to redeem it if they don’t have the financial means. A larger group of people who buy tickets in bulk, such as for a business or church, can even redeem a portion of the tickets for free. The distributor says that of its $14.2 million haul, $2.6 million came from people overpaying through Pay It Forward ticket sales.
It’s not just a few “angels” investors. Angel Studios’ website boasts that over 200,000 individual contributors contributed additional tickets, with a goal of 2 million tickets sold in its first week. (That would represent the 2 million children who are trafficked each year; Angel says it’s already hit 1.4 million tickets.) Jared Geesey, senior vice president of global distribution at Angel Studios, tells IndieWire the team had to scale back Angels server in response to a surge of people who wanted to support the film after seeing it on the 4th.
“It’s ordinary people saying, ‘You have to see this movie and be a part of this movement to bring awareness to these children and the plight of human trafficking,'” Geesey said. “That’s what Pay It Forward technology is empowering, the generosity of other people who want you to see it so your finances aren’t a reason not to be impacted by this story.”
Given that $11.56 million of the total came from actual box office receipts from people showing up on the 4th, it’s up for debate whether “Sound of Freedom” really beat out “Indy 5” as the No. 4 film. 1 in America on Independence Day. Its CinemaScore A+ is impressive, but not uncommon when polling faith-based audiences. Geesey clarified that while the film generated over $10 million in presales, that included tickets sold through July 9.
The numbers make the industry take notice. “Sound of Freedom” is the second theatrical release from Angel Studios. His first Bible film ‘His Only Son’, which was released during the Easter holiday of 2023, was the first to use the Pay It Forward platform. It made over $12 million on a budget of just $250,000. Angel Studios declined to say how much ‘His Only Son’ took away from Pay It Forward, but an April Washington Examiner relationship he said the program accounted for an additional 20,000 tickets. Previously, Angel’s TV series “The Chosen,” an event released by Fathom Events, grossed $5.5 million for the first two episodes of the show’s third season.
“Sound of Freedom” is Angel’s widest release to date across more than 2,600 screens. While the film has some faith-based undertones, it is not overtly religious. It also has a PG-13 rating due to its heavy subject matter, leading analysts to believe the film is finding appeal beyond the faith-based crowd.
“This is yet another example of a faith-based distributor breaking the rules and coming out on top,” Comscore senior analyst Paul Dergarabedian told IndieWire. “(This) also shows that a basic marketing strategy and tapping into the power of faith-based audiences has proven to be a very effective method of generating profits.”
One reason Angel Studios can use the Pay It Forward model is its status as an equity crowdfunding firm. The distributor has an “Angel Guild” of more than 100,000 individual investors and shareholders who make content decisions about the distributor’s publications and investments, including “Sound of Freedom”.
The model is more common in the superfan space, but Angel Studios uses it for direct marketing that raises awareness beyond traditional billboards and TV ads. With the ability to see a return on their investment, that investor group is more likely to evangelize others to see it.
Geesey said that “Sound of Freedom” tested particularly well with the Angel Guild, who rated it on whether it aligned with Angel Studios’ mission to “amplify the light” in entertainment for loyal audiences .
“Do you want this to be out in the world? How disappointed would you be if this wasn’t released by Angel Studios? ‘ said Geesey of the team’s criteria.
That guild also crowdfunded the $5 million in P&A that allowed Angel Studios to release it on a large scale, and those investors will receive up to 120 percent of their investment before producers and distributors get their share of the profits. Even with a single-day $14.2 million start, which Geesey says far exceeded Angel’s expectations, the studio still has a long way to go to break even. The film – which Angel acquired rather than produced in-house – was made on a budget of $14.6 million.
“Sound of Freedom” began as a 2018 production set up under a Latin American distribution deal with Fox. Following Fox’s merger with Disney in 2019, producer Eduardo Verástegui reacquired the rights to the film and bought it before landing at Angel Studios. As for why the film never got off the ground at Disney, a Disney spokesperson said Disney’s studio division was unaware of the film given its status as an international acquisition prior to the merger.
Geesey believes Hollywood may be missing out on an opportunity. She said Angel’s equity crowdfunding and Pay It Forward models are designed to demonstrate that their loyal audience is more than a niche.
“(Hollywood) stories tend to get darker and darker and grittier, so our crazy idea is that we just want to let people decide what they want to watch,” Geesey said. “We are not anti-Hollywood; we just think Hollywood’s gatekeeper system as a way to choose what content gets to market we think is antiquated and not effective.