Aug 5 • 49M

How 2023's Oddest Box Office Hit 'Paid It Forward'

Angel Studios CCO Jeffrey Harmon on the surprise hit of the summer, 'Sound of Freedom.'

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Sonny Bunch
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Some backstory to this episode: last month I bought a ticket for Sound of Freedom because I was curious about the year’s most unexpected box office sensation. As the credits rolled, star Jim Caviezel came on the screen and gave a speech to the audience about the importance of theatrical exhibition; it’s the sort of thing you typically see at the start of movies these days, actors and directors thanking audiences for coming to the theater. Here’s the wrinkle: during his speech, Caviezel tells audience members they can “pay it forward,” buy a ticket for someone who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to go. When the QR code allowing audiences to do this came on the screen, a woman who had lingered by the exit when she heard Caviezel talking pulled out her phone, scanned the code, and bought a ticket.

I’ve never seen anything like that in a movie theater. Ever. So I asked Jeffrey Harmon, Angel Studios’s Chief Content Officer, on the show to talk about his studio’s unique business model, how they decide what to fund, and whether or not the pay-it-forward model could work for other types of movies like civil rights dramas. We discussed how the pay-it-forward system impacts the box office (briefly: only tickets that are requested and redeemed count toward the total, which as of this writing stands at $156 million domestic) and what their plans are for international distribution.

As always, if you learned something, I hope you share this episode with a friend:


Finally: I know there’s a lot of controversy swirling around this movie. For reasons I lay out here, I think it’s a fairly serious misstep to describe this as “the QAnon movie,” though I understand why some have misgivings given Jim Caviezel’s statements in the past. But this episode is about the film’s box office business, and as such I hewed pretty closely to that topic. If you’re not interested in that aspect of Sound of Freedom, there are plenty of other materials you can read on the topic.