Saturday, May 18, 2024

Hollywood Upset: “Indiana Jones” Beaten at Box Office on July 4th by Christian Film From Small, Upstart Outlier Utah-Based Movie Company


On Tuesday, July 4th, the box went awry.

“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” number 1 for the weekend, was beaten by something “Sound of Freedom,” a Christian movie from a small, sketchy film company that doesn’t actual say it’s Christian.

“Sound of Freedom” –which took in a shocking $14 million on its opening day — is said to be based on actual events, although many question its veracity. It stars Jim Cavaziel, the star of Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ,” and Eduardo Verástegui, who is also listed as the producer. Verástegui long ago starred in a little indie film called “Bella,” that won kudos on the festival circuit. He had little luck after that until he turned to faith based filmmaking. For a time he was very close to Kathie Lee Gifford, who herself has made a career in that world after leaving the “Today” show and moving to Nashville.

The film was made in Colombia by Angel Studios, which is owned the Harmon brothers (Neil, Jeff, Jordan and Daniel) and Benton Crane. They are all members of the Church of Latter Day Saints. They say they’ve perfected a technology called Pay it Forward, in which people can buy tickets for others who don’t have the funds to get their own. The Harmons tout themselves as viral marketing experts who have produced other top viral ads for companies including ​Squatty Potty, FiberFix, OraBrush, Poo~Pourri ​and ​Purple. They’re based in Provo, Utah.

On Rotten Tomatoes, “Sound of Freedom” has a high score– 88% — from 18 reviewers. Only one, Owen Gleiberman, of Variety, is listed as a Top Critic, and he liked it.

The Harmons’ expertise in marketing paid off on Tuesday with $14 million in sales. Using crowdfunding, according to one report, Angel Studios has 50,000 individual investors and has over $100 million worth of original content, including 12 titles, in production. But it’s not all a bed of roses. According to Wikipedia, in 2016, the Harmons’ original company, VidAngel, “was sued by several major Hollywood studios for copyright violations, accusing the service of streaming unlicensed content that was not created by VidAngel. VidAngel fought the lawsuit for several years, asserting its method was legal under the Family Movie Act of 2005, and then eventually reached a settlement in 2020.”

The “true story” in “Sound of Freedom” is about Tim Ballard, the founder of Operation Underground Railroad, or O.U.R., an anti-human trafficking activist. According to Techbuzz, “Sound of Freedom” depicts actual events involving Tim Ballard’s decision to quit his government job in Homeland Security to rescue a little girl from sex traffickers in the Colombian jungle. In the process, Ballard — played by Cavaziel — ended up saving 123 people, 55 of which were children, from one mission alone. (Mira Sorvino and Bill Camp, who are not identified as Christian actors, co-star.)

Is the story true? That’s a matter of debate, as O.U.R. has been accused of being involved with QAnon in a series of articles on Vice News. The organization denies it. But there’s plenty of reading — you can go down a rabbit on the subject of Ballard and his background.

The main thing here, though, is the Harmons and Crane upset the normal course of events on Tuesday. “Indiana Jones” is already on shaky ground financially with a poor marketing plan that has backfired. Now Disney has been embarrassed by Angel Studios, an upstart outlier that stole their thunder. Stay tuned…

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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