Faith-Based Movie Sound Of Freedom Is A Surprise Hit But One That Raises Big Red Flags


It has been a pretty interesting summer at the box office thus far, with movies like "The Flash" failing spectacularly against sky-high expectations, while others like Wes Anderson's "Asteroid City" have provided some hope that original cinema can still work in the aftermath of the pandemic. Then there's this past weekend, where "Insidious: The Red Door" managed to beat out "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny" in a big win for horror, which also served as a wake-up call for massive budget blockbusters. At the same time, a faith-based film titled "Sound of Freedom" managed to make a downright shocking amount of money, given just how little it was covered in the mainstream press ahead of its release.

Distributed independently by Angel Studios, "Sound of Freedom" has racked up more than $40 million at the domestic box office in less than a week, including an impressive $18.2 million over the weekend, per The Numbers. Nailing down the budget for the film is tricky since it was actually produced way back in 2018 and was going to be distributed by 20th Century Fox before Disney acquired the studio. Disney then shelved and, years later, Angel Studios managed to wrestle the rights away. That having been said, in the face of big-name competition smack dab in the middle of the summer movie season, what this movie pulled in is deeply impressive.

The film tells a fictionalized version of a real-life story about a federal agent who saves a boy from human traffickers, but his sister is still captive. He then embarks on a mission to save her as well. It's based on Tim Ballard, a former government agent who now focuses on rescuing children from sex traffickers, with Jim Caviezel ("The Passion of the Christ") in the lead role. That's where things get dicey.

The QAnon associations

"Sound of Freedom" has been received shockingly well. It holds a 77% critical approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes to go with a perfect 100% audience rating. The film also holds a stellar A+ CinemaScore – the only movie currently in theaters with such a rating. It's a full-blown crowdpleaser, but one with a very problematic star and subject at the heart of the material.

A quick trip through Google will tell you that this film has been heavily tied to the controversial group QAnon that has been linked to, among other things, the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. The Washington Post broke the whole situation down, explaining that both Ballard and Caviezel have both publicly supported conspiracy theories pushed by QAnon. Ballard, for example, once supported a theory that retailer Wayfair was selling children saying, "Children are sold that way."

Caviezel, meanwhile, has spoken at several QAnon conferences and subscribes to the belief that child traffickers are kidnapping children to harvest their blood. At once conference in Oklahoma, he talked about "the adrenochroming of children." The idea is that these traffickers use a chemical compound in the blood generated by the body called adrenochrome to give them some sort of life boost. It's far-out conspiracy stuff, to be certain. Both the star and subject of one of the biggest films in North America right now buy into it and peddle it freely. That's a problem.

For what it's worth, the film itself does not depict these wild QAnon conspiracies and Angel Studios has pushed back against the accusations. Be that as it may, the hit movie is directly associated with people who back these conspiracies, and it's giving them a platform.

Faith-based movies making bank is not the problem

At a time when the movie business is still struggling a bit to find a path forward after the pandemic, anything that can put meat in seats can be a good thing. Angel Studios even did a pretty unique "Pay it Forward" campaign for "Sound of Freedom" where people could pay to purchase a ticket to see the film for someone who might not otherwise be able to afford it. The studio claims they've sold more than 3.8 million tickets this way. That's nothing to sneeze at.

Meanwhile, other faith-based movies have performed quite well in 2023. Lionsgate scored an unexpected hit with "Jesus Revolution" earlier this year, which earned $53 million against a $15 million budget and very minimal marketing. There's also "The Chosen," which made nearly $15 million airing its season 3 premiere in theaters. There's a built-in audience for these movies and there's no reason not to serve that audience.

As Hollywood is likely to chase this thread more in the coming years, "Sound of Freedom" is a reminder that it should be done so responsibly. If not, this devolves into, at best, a questionable business strategy and, at worst, a damning demonstration of money mattering above all else. Making a movie about child trafficking is by no means an issue — audiences love this one — it's about who that movie is being made with.