Can’t We All Just Get Along?  Sound of Freedom vs. Indiana Jones…Why Not See Both?

by | Jul 20, 2023 | Essays | 1 comment

Can’t We All Just Get Along?  Sound of Freedom vs. Indiana Jones…Why Not See Both?

JM Headshot2014Med
by James Mathers
Cinematographer and Founder of the Digital Cinema Society
(Excerpted from the July 2023 Digital Cinema Society eNewsletter)


“Can’t we all just get along?”  Although the words of Rodney King after the 1992 L.A. riots might have been a bit naive, it was nonetheless a worthy goal, one I’m still wishing for today.  Our world is so divided, whether it’s Armed International Conflict, Labor vs. Management, Blue States vs. Red, and now one movie vs. another.  We have always steered DCS clear of topics related to politics or religion, and I don’t want to start now. However, I was particularly disappointed in the many film reviews I read online pitting these two movies against each other in a somewhat religious crusade to convince movie goers that they should see one and avoid the other at all costs.  Now, I’m not against healthy competition, and have no horse in this race, absolutely no affiliation with either movie.  Yet the schadenfreude and pure glee being exhibited at any Disney movie, and in particular, the latest Indiana Jones sequel, showing poorly at the box office, was disturbing.

In my research to cover the amazing box office success for the theatrical release of Sound of Freedom, I found more than a few social media posts trying to make the case that if I didn’t see the movie in theaters and perhaps buy a ticket for someone else, I was turning a blind eye toward the business of child sex trafficking.  And if I opted to see a “woke” Disney movie like Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, I was tacitly supporting it. While the evil forces in Sound of Freedom are child sex traffickers, the bad guys in Indiana Jones are Nazis; both are totally repugnant to me and about as extreme on the evil villain scale as you can get.  However, I didn’t see either movie in order to make a political statement, I wanted to be entertained. Is it a sin to want to sometimes seek out a little escapist entertainment?  I hope not, or our industry is in bigger trouble than I thought.

I give the producers responsible for Sound of Freedom a lot of credit; through the vehicle of dramatic narrative storytelling, they have shone a light on an extremely dark subject in a way that no documentary could. They also deserve a lot of credit for the phenomenal grassroots marketing campaign. Via faith based groups and social media channels they managed to not only spread the word about the movie, but to pre-sell a significant number of tickets guaranteeing a solid box office opening on the 4th of July that still has legs weeks later. The first time I tried to see the movie at the local multiplex on a Wednesday afternoon in its second week of release it was sold out for all showings the rest of that day.

Although it is like comparing apples and oranges, I will contrast the two movies in terms of their box office openings, since they premiered in the same week.  Sound of Freedom, starring Jim Caviezel from Angel Studios, is based on the story of real life former federal agent Tim Ballard and his mission to save children from human trafficking. It took the number one spot at the box office on its opening day, bringing in over $14 million over the July 4th weekend. That is pretty impressive for a movie with only a $15 million production budget, likely putting into profit before the end of its first week of release, and as of this writing it has surpassed $100 million in ticket sales. 

Meanwhile, the fifth edition of the Indiana Jones franchise, starring Harrison Ford and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, with a budget in excess of $294 million, took in about $60 million during the prime July 4th weekend slot.  The first Indiana Jones not to be written by George Lucas or directed by Steven Spielberg was ably directed by James Mangold with beautiful cinematography care of Phedon Papamichael, ASC.  It had great action and stunning production value and VFX including the de-aging of Harrison Ford for much of the movie as well as a stirring score by John Williams. With a current worldwide gross of over $300 million and counting, it is far from the “Woke Disney’s disastrous box office bomb,” as one of the social media reviews labeled the movie.

It seems that some of the ire directed at Disney, (besides being perceived as too progressive,) is due to the distribution history of Sound of Freedom.  The movie was completed in 2018 and set up for release by Fox until Disney bought the studio in 2019 and shelved the movie with no plan to release it. Angel Studios, headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah with a faith based specialty, bought the rights. After shopping it around town to the likes of Amazon and Netflix, they decided to go it alone. The fact that it stood up so well to Indiana Jones created a good David and Goliath underdog narrative for the press, but it doesn’t necessarily make it a good movie, or make the competition evil. 

That is not to say Sound of Freedom is a bad movie; although a little heavy handed for my taste, it has very good action and is dramatically quite engaging.  Various religious and conservative media groups seem to have helped promote the partially crowdfunded effort.  It didn’t hurt, when in 2021, the movie’s lead, Jim Caviezel spoke at a QAnon convention in Las Vegas invoking their slogan “The storm is upon us.”  Angel Studios also came up with other unconventional efforts to increase ticket sales including an app that allows people to buy and then donate tickets to those who can’t afford the price of admission. About $2.6 million of opening day sales were earned through this “Pay It Forward” app, which the company framed as a way to raise awareness about child trafficking.

At a time when theatrical exhibition is on life support, we don’t need to be tearing each other down in hopes of promoting the movies we like. Instead, why not see both movies? The next “epic box office showdown” is now known as “Barbenheimer.” There are extremely high hopes that Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, who is considered the father of the atomic bomb, and Gretta Gerwig’s fantasy, Barbie, can help revive the floundering exhibition business. The two movies could not be further apart in terms of content, but both have large budgets and star-studded casts. Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt and Matt Damon lead the ensemble cast of Oppenheimer, while Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling star in Barbie.  

Although both movies have budgets in excess of $100 million, they are expected to easily recoup their costs, perhaps in just the initial opening. While Oppenheimer and Barbie are opening the same day, Christopher Nolan welcomes the competition.  He has been quoted as saying, “Together Is ‘Terrific’ Because a ‘Crowded’ Marketplace Is a ‘Healthy’ One…Those who care about the theatrical experience, we’ve been longing for a crowded marketplace with a lot of different movies.…That’s what theaters have now, and those of us who care about movies are thrilled about that.”  

Another summer box office contender is Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning where its star and producer, Tom Cruise posed with tickets in hand along with director Christopher McQuarrie in front of posters for Barbie and Oppenheimer, saying it “doesn’t get more explosive (or more pink) than that. This summer is full of amazing movies to see in theaters.” That is a sentiment I can agree with even though Cruise is purported to be a follower of Scientology. He is a gifted actor and a brilliant producer; entitled to his religious beliefs, which will not stop me from enjoying his movies.

There is a lot of strife in the world today, and I appreciate a chance to avoid it, at least while I’m trying to enjoy a movie.  Please keep your politics and religious beliefs out of your movie critiques and go out and see as many movies as you can; (and try to see Oppenheimer in IMAX). If we don’t support the theatrical experience, it may not be around too much longer as a viable way to see movies.



1 Comment

  1. Y O

    Indeed James!


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