Sound of Freedom, The Chosen, and the Power and Pitfalls of the Next Wave of Christian Entertainment
Updated: Aug 18
It’s been a good year for Christian entertainment and particularly for Angel Studios, thanks to the success of biblical adaptations like The Chosen and His Only Son, as well as films that speak to conservative concerns like Sound of Freedom, an action film based on the true story of Tim Ballard, a former government agent who rescues children from sex trafficking.
Angel Studios has achieved remarkable results at the box office, outperforming many major studios. Most Sound of Freedom has made nearly $85.5 million at the box office on its opening week and has gone on to earn over $130 million. His Only Son made over $12 million at the box office, in spite of its tiny budget. The Chosen Season 3 Premiere grossed over $14 million at the box office. It was shown on thousands of screens across the country and ranked third in ticket sales during its opening weekend. The Chosen Season 3 Finale grossed over $5.5 million at the box office - not quite as impressive of a haul but still remarkable given the short window between the theatrical release and when the episodes were available to stream for free.
In addition to its box office success, The Chosen has also reached millions of viewers through streaming platforms and television. Although it was initially only available on the Angel Studios platform and YouTube, the show can now be found on Amazon Prime Video, Peacock, Netflix, and Kanopy. Seasons 1-3 of The Chosen were also recently picked up by The CW - the first television network to air the show. The presence of The Chosen across such a broad range of platforms ensures that the show will continue to grow its already large and faithful fanbase.
What’s behind the success of Sound of Freedom and The Chosen?
There are several factors that have contributed to the smashing success of Angel’s shows and films:
Entertainment as Activism/Evangelism
Those who view films like Sound of Freedom or shows like The Chosen often believe that they are participating in a greater cause or mission. These projects all have a clear message and purpose that resonates with Christian values and beliefs. Moreover, the creators behind them invite viewers to get involved in supporting, spreading, and praying for the films. For example, The Chosen encourages viewers to “pay it forward” by contributing to the production costs of future seasons and enabling others to watch for free. Tim Ballard’s organization, Operation Underground Railroad, which works to rescue children from sex trafficking around the world, has been promoted in conjunction with Sound of Freedom. To make the connection between these projects and Christian values/causes even ore explicit, the creators behind them often show up in videos immediately before or after the film/show to speak directly to fans and explain how supporting their projects will serve God’s purposes. For example, the director of His Only Son appeared in videos before and after the film to encourage viewers to invite non-Christian friends to the movie in order to hear the Gospel.
Entertainment as Relationship
The creators and actors involved in these shows and films also seek to develop a sense of intimacy and community with their fans. Often this is achieved through behind-the-scenes videos, interviews, podcasts, social media posts, and live events that showcase the personalities, stories, and testimonies of those involved. The creators interact with their fans regularly, answering questions, soliciting feedback, sharing updates, expressing gratitude, and requesting prayer. For example, The Chosen’s creator and director Dallas Jenkins invites fans to join his personal text thread, which he uses to share short videos where he shares about his struggles, hopes, and prayer requests. Prominent stars like Jonathan Roumie (who plays Jesus in The Chosen) or Jim Caviezel (who plays Ballard in Sound of Freedom and Jesus in The Passion of the Christ) frequently speak at churches and other Christian events about their life and faith.
Entertainment as Community
The recent wave of Christian entertainment has also been savvy about leveraging existing networks and communities - especially churches and faith communities - to maximize its reach and impact. These shows and films often partner with churches and ministries to host screenings, events, campaigns, or resources that promote their content and message. They also encourage viewers to watch together with their friends, family, or small groups, creating a shared experience that fosters discussion, reflection, and action. For example, thousands of churches around the world have hosted events centered around The Chosen, aided by both official discussion guides produced by the creators of the show and content like my own. Both His Only Son and Sound of Freedom benefited greatly from group showings, often sponsored by churches and other faith-communities.
Entertainment as Ideology
It’s no secret that Hollywood is dominated by leftward thinking and progressive concerns. As a result, conservatives - especially conservative Christians - often struggle to find entertainment options that resonate with their values, lifestyle, and worldview. Angel Studios has capitalized on this situation by offering films and shows shaped by sentiments and beliefs that are currently underrepresented by mainstream Hollywood films and studio television. Their media affirms the values, traditions, and identities that conservative audiences hold dear, such as patriotism, the traditional family, masculinity, and, of course, faith. For example, The Chosen portrays Jesus and people of faith as complex and flawed human beings, not as stereotypes or caricatures. It explores the challenges and beauty of marriage and family and avoids gratuitous violence or sex. Sound of Freedom exposes the dark reality of child sex trafficking, which - in the eyes of conservatives - is often ignored or downplayed by the mainstream media. His Only Son depicts the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac in a realistic and emotional way, highlighting the themes of faith, obedience, and sacrifice.
The Double-Edged Sword
Although The Chosen, Sound of Freedom, and His Only Son have achieved remarkable success, they’ve also been plagued by controversy and conflict. Often, this is because the very strengths that help these projects succeed can also prove to be a liability:
Scrutiny from Christians and Conservatives
Biblical adaptations like The Chosen and His Only Son face an extraordinary amount of theological and ideological scrutiny. Many viewers don’t understand the challenge of balancing faithfulness to Scripture and effective storytelling and are quick to nitpick and catastrophize when these adaptations get creative or diverge from their biblical sources in small ways. To make things even more challenging, these adaptations also have to satisfy viewers from a wide range of theological, spiritual, and political traditions, since the Gospel stories "belong" to a diverse array of traditions.
The intensity of this scrutiny is largely due to how biblical adaptations and other Christian films/show blur the line between entertainment, activism, and evangelism. Mainstream media receives far less scrutiny because most viewers consider it to be mere entertainment and not as an avatar of a particular cause, a teacher of truth, or a tool for spreading the Gospel. Fans of a show like The Chosen tend to believe that what they are watching is more than entertainment. As a result, they want the show to reflect their theological, historical, and even social-political beliefs and values. Any hint of theological divergence can lead viewers to feel frustrated with or even betrayed by the show. As a result of such feelings, I’ve seen people swing from being totally adoring fans to vicious critics.
The level of scrutiny is amplified by how the creators of The Chosen and similar projects have built intimate relationships with their audience. Instead of viewing directors and actors in these works as distant celebrities, loyal viewers come to view them more like friends. That sense of friendship and intimacy heightens the feelings of betrayal that viewers have when they find themselves at odds with the direction that a project has taken. It also leads some viewers to respond to the errors of creators, actors, and even minor crew members by “holding them accountable" through boycotts and online protests. For example, The Chosen faced a backlash from some viewers when a right-wing media outlet noticed that a minor member of the film crew had a small gay pride flag on the set of The Chosen. Some viewers accused The Chosen of promoting a “gay agenda” or “caving in to the culture” and threatened to stop watching or supporting the show. Those at the head of this backlash claimed that they were exercising biblical accountability, even though they didn't have a personal relationship with anyone involved. But it probably felt like they did - because the creators of the show have tried to foster that sense of closeness.
The communal dimension of the Christian audience can also be a double-edged sword. Christian communities tend to shaped in significant ways by key gatekeepers - not only pastors/priests but also small group facilitators and other lay leaders. While gatekeepers often play a positive role, encouraging community members to enjoy shows or films that align with their values, those who have a less favorable view of a show and those who reject biblical adaptations in general can have the opposite effect. For example, prominent church leaders like John McArthur have spoken against The Chosen and as a result have turned thousands of potential viewers away from the show.
Scrutiny from Secular Media
In addition to facing scrutiny from within the Christian world, the conservative ideas and sentiments reflected in films like Sound of Freedom can make them a target for left-leaning media outlets. Sound of Freedom does not directly reflect the theories of QAnon and Angel Studios has denied any connection between the film and QAnon conspiracies, but that hasn't stopped secular media outlets like Rolling Stone from trying to connect the two. In part, this is due to star Jim Caviezel’s presence at QAnon-linked events. But some of the secular criticism of the film seems to reflect a more general disdain and suspicion of conservative-leaning viewers. Thus, the attempt to reflect conservative concerns and sentiments - the very thing that has made Sound of Freedom such a resounding success - has also made it liable to severe media attention, potentially discrediting the film in the eyes of those outside of its core audience.
Christian entertainment is growing, but along with growth come growing pains. As Angel and other studios continue to produce and distribute more content, their creators will need support, prayer, and discernment. Hopefully, Christian communities can also begin to recognize some of the unhealthy dynamics that surround Christian entertainment and we can reflect on how we can cultivate a healthier media environment.
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If you liked this post, you might want to check out some of my other posts on The Chosen and Bible adaptation. I have Bible studies/discussion guides for each episode of The Chosen Seasons 1-3, blogs exploring how The Chosen adapts key biblical figures, and articles exploring the controversial nature of adaptation. I hope you enjoy them!
Artist Interviews (The Bible Artist Podcast)
The Chosen Season 4
The Chosen Season 3
Adapting Biblical Characters Series
Thomas & Ramah in The Chosen & Scripture ***Season 3***
Yussif, Jairus, & Shmuel in The Chosen ***Season 3***
Quintus, Gaius, Atticus, and the Romans in The Chosen ***Season 3 Update***
Little James in The Chosen & Scripture ***Season 3***
Pontius Pilate & his Wife in The Chosen ***Season 3***
Judas in The Chosen ***Season 3 Update***
Matthew in The Chosen ***Season 3 Update***
Simon and Andrew in The Chosen ***Season 3 Update***
Exploring The Chosen with Youth or Small Group [Discussion Guides]
How to Discuss The Chosen - and Why
Episode 1 Guide: Homecoming
Episode 2 Guide: Two by Two
Episode 3 Guide: Physician, Heal Thyself
Episode 4 Guide: Clean Part 1
Episode 5 Guide: Clean Part 2
Episode 6 Guide: Intensity in Tent City
Episode 7 Guide: Ears to Hear
Episode 8 Guide: The Feeding of the 5,000
Season 2 Reflection P1: What is The Chosen Season 2 about?
Season 2 Reflection P2: What was The Chosen Season 2 about? (Plots & Theme)
Episode 1 Guide: The Beloved Disciple
Episode 2 Guide: Philip, Nathanael, & Matthew
Episode 3 Guide: Life Among the Disciples of Jesus
Episode 4 Guide: Simon the Zealot & the Man at the Bethesda Pool
Episode 5 Guide: Mary's Demons & the Destiny of John the Baptist
Episode 6 Guide: Mercy and Not Sacrifice
Episode 7 Guide: Quintus Returns
Episode 8 Guide: Judas, Matthew, & the Sermon on the Mount
Episode 1 Guide: Mary Magdalene, Lilith, and the Redeemer
Episode 2 Guide: Mary Magdalene, Nicodemus, and Shabbat
Episode 3 Guide: Depicting Jesus in Art, Film, and TV
Episode 4 Guide: When Jesus Met Simon (Peter)
Episode 5 Guide: Mary, Mother of Jesus
Episode 6 Guide: Jesus, Shmuel, & the Pharisees
Episode 7 Guide: Did Nicodemus Follow Jesus?
Episode 8 Guide: The Woman at the Well, Eden, & Zohara
The Chosen Controversies Series
Themes & Theology of The Chosen [Exclusive for BMC Members]
Episode 1: What do we do when we are scared?
Episode 2: What is Shabbat for?
Episode 3: Who is Jesus?
Episode 4: What kind of man are you?
Beyond The Chosen
The Chosen: 9 Good Friday & Easter Episodes ***Season 3 Update***
Other Bible Adaptations
Recap & Review: His Only Son