Is Angel Studios Mormon? Everything To Know About The Christian Movie Company (2024)

Summary

  • Angel Studios, founded by Mormons in Utah, produces religious content and had a legal battle leading to a rebrand from VidAngel.
  • Crowdfunding supports Angel Studios productions, allowing fans to own a stake in the company and have a say in what content is created.
  • Angel Studios creates TV shows, animated series, and controversial films like "Sound of Freedom" based on true events but with significant creative liberties.

"Is Angel Studios Mormon?" may be a question that has flitted across viewers' minds after perusing the noticeably religious-centric collection of films and TV shows in the Angel Studios library. Movie studios are constantly rising and falling in Hollywood, save for some major ones that never seem to run out of steam. A24 is a great example of a recent production studio that has paved the way for many talented filmmakers to create some truly innovative pictures. It's such an iconic studio that it's easy to tell when a horror movie comes from A24.

A recent studio that has been making waves in the 2020s is Angel Studios, an independent media company and film distributor. While studio names rarely indicate the particular interest of studios — take Orion, New Line Cinema, and STX as examples — Angel Studios is a very apt name for the organization, considering the religious content they produce and distribute. Many films have lived and died because of studio meddling, but in Angel Studios' case, it appears the independent company has a lot of say in what kind of content its creators make.

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Angel Studios Is A Mormon-Founded Company

The Harmon Family Founded The Company In Utah

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Angel Studios is a Mormon-founded company, started by Mormon brothers Neal Harmon, Jeffrey Harmon, and Daniel Harmon, alongside their cousin Benton Crane. The family originally began the company in 2014 as VidAngel, an American streaming video company that the family created for parents to be able to show young people the movies they love without worrying about explicit content they consider too mature (via Religion Unplugged).

The company is headquartered in Lehi, Utah, the U.S. state where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or Mormons) has a strong cultural heritage. Neal Harmon, the CEO and founder of Angel Studios, is a graduate of Bringham Young University, a private university funded by the LDS, and he was a proselyting missionary for the LDS Church (via LinkedIn). Angel Studios may not be explicitly "Mormon", but the beliefs and practices were integral to its formation and apparent in its offering.

Mormons consider themselves to fall under the umbrella of Christianity (via Church of Jesus Christ) but many other Christian denominations consider Mormonism to be outside the realm of Christianity (via Religion News Blog).

VidAngel Gave Way To Angel Studios After A Lengthy Lawsuit

Disney, Warner Bros., And Other Major Studios Sued VidAngel

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VidAngel's business plan, when it debuted, was to take movies and television shows from other streamers and remove, or allow guardians to remove, parts of the film or show they deemed explicit. Harmon spoke about this idea with Religion Unplugged,

"I love the movie Cinderella Man. At the time I wanted to share it with my family and I had very young children. I said, 'I love this movie.' But the the New Yorker language of the boxing coach is just, I don't want my little two-year-old and four-year-old and six-year-old repeating that to each other. So let's watch this really great story, but without them having to repeat those words."

However, for the service to work users of VidAngel needed accounts with Netflix and other platforms to utilize it The big studios took notice and in 2016, a suit was filed by Disney, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., 20th Century Fox Film Corporation, and Lucasfilm Ltd. LLC claiming VidAngel, "blatantly violates the Copyright Act" by circumventing "technological protection measures on DVDs and Blu-ray discs" (via DeseretNews).

In 2020, VidAngel agreed to pay a $9.9 million fine over 14 years, which was pretty favorable considering they were initially sued for $62.4 million.

Basically, the studios believed VidAngel violated copyright law by editing their productions, essentially accusing the faith-based company of being an unlicensed video delivery platform. Eventually, VidAngel was forced to shut down in 2016, relaunched in 2017, and declared bankruptcy shortly after (via KSLTV). In 2020, VidAngel agreed to pay a $9.9 million fine over 14 years, which was pretty favorable considering they were initially sued for $62.4 million.

Neal and his brothers did not stand around with their hands in their pockets while they were being sued, however. Instead, they made their own film studio in 2021, Angel Studios, to create and distribute their own films, so there would be no need to alter existing media. As an added bonus, VidAngel relaunched in 2022, now partnered with studios such as Amazon Prime Video and Netflix, though Disney and Warner Brothers content remains unavailable. VidAngel CEO Bill Aho wrote in a blog post (via VidAngel),

"... part of that agreement was that we would not filter content from the plaintiff studios or their affiliates—which means the Disney universe (Hulu, HBO, Fox, Newline, Touchstone, Lucasfilm, Searchlight, Marvel) and Warner Brothers. We’re hoping that Disney and its partners have a change of heart."

With their own content library in the form of Angel Studios, the Harmons are providing plenty of alternative programming for more families.

Crowdfunding Supports Angel Studios Productions

Angel Studios Allows Fans To Purchase Ownership Of The Company To Fund Projects

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Angel Studios is supported much differently than its Hollywood counterparts, as most of the money for their projects comes from crowdfunding. It's an interesting model for funding a studio and, in Angel Studios' version, the studio asks its viewers what they want to see. Once they vote, Angel Studios pitches the project to filmmakers and if there is any interest, they return back to the crowd (via Angel). In this equity crowdfunding model (which is regulated by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission [the SEC]), donors can purchase ownership of the company in exchange for funding a project.

It's a very unusual way for a studio to operate but it does ensure that every TV show or movie they produce is likely to be a hit in some way or another, considering the people who want to see it have already put up the money and invested. It also gives Angel Studios greater control over what it is their creators end up producing and allows the viewer to be the executive producer.

Angel Studios Makes TV Shows Along With Movies

Angel Studios Has Made Documentaries, Shows, And Other Films

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Angel Studios makes more than just movies. They have several original television shows and animated series. While Sound of Freedom may be the only project the average person has heard of, the studio has other content in its library. The 2017 series made for VidAngel, Dry Bar Comedy, is a stand-up comedy special and the studio also produced its first scripted series in 2017, The Chosen, based on the life of Jesus Christ, joining a long line of Jesus movies and TV shows.

In 2021 and 2022, Angel Studios premiered two animated kids' shows, The Tuttle Twins for younger children and The Wingfeather Saga for a slightly older age group. There have been other movies to come out besides Sound of Freedom as well, including His Only Son (2023) about Abraham of the Bible's Old Testament and Cabrini (2024) about the American saint of the same name.

Sound Of Freedom Is Angel Studios' Biggest Hit

The Hit Film Earned The Studio Notoriety And Controversy

Sound of Freedom is by far Angel Studios' biggest hit and the reason the company has breached into the mainstream. The action thriller premiered in July 2023 and was a surprise hit at the box office, earning $225 million (via Box Office Mojo). However, Sound of Freedom also earned itself significant controversy. The film is a highly fictionalized account of Tim Ballard's (Jim Caviezel) mission to rescue sex-trafficked children from Colombia.

The film attracted considerable attention thanks to its apparent connections to QAnon conspiracy theories involving sex trafficking and an elite cabal of global leaders responsible for sex trafficking rings.

The film attracted considerable attention thanks to its apparent connections to Q-Anon conspiracy theories involving sex trafficking and an elite cabal of global leaders responsible for sex trafficking rings. Other controversies extend from the film's claim of being a true story when little evidence suggests Ballard or Operation Underground Railroad, the organization he formerly headed, did anything resembling what happens in the movie.

A third controversy extended from the "pay it forward" strategy Angel Studios employed (via The Guardian). At the end of Sound of Freedom, a message appears imploring viewers to buy another ticket, "for someone who would not otherwise be able to see the film," resulting in nearly empty showings. It's also worth noting that the film was completed in 2018 but Fox, later Disney, held the distribution rights until March 2023, when Harmon and Angel Studios bought them back (via Marvel Latin News).

Caviezel has been outspoken about his support for the film, comparing the movie to Schindler's List during the press tour saying (via Movie Guide),

"Listen, you do Schindler's List 50 years later, you’re a hero. Try doing Schindler's List when the Nazis are right there. Understand how that becomes more dangerous? I don’t understand why people are willing to let children be hurt, but in this time, Hollywood says, 'No, no, let’s kick that down fifty years from now and then [see where we’re at].' That’s crap"

It's certainly possible that a film claiming to be about a true story may do better years after the event, or that Sound of Freedom may eventually be widely recognized as a masterpiece. However, it's critical to note that the claims made in Sound of Freedom regarding sex trafficking have been debunked (via USA Today) with even Angel Studios admitting the film took creative liberties. On the other hand, the Holocaust, the focus of Schindler's List, was a real-life atrocity, making Caviezel's analogy questionable at best.

The Studio Makes Christian-Themed Stories They Say Are Not Political

Harmon Claims Sound Of Freedom Has Nothing To Do With Politics

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It may be obvious to note, but Angel Studios deals exclusively in Christian-themed stories. Their shows and films are filled with Christian imagery and even explicitly depict Christian characters and stories from the Bible. However, Angel Studios claims it is not political. Neal Harmon told The Daily Signal about his thoughts on Sound of Freedom,

"Everyone who’s seen this film knows that it has nothing to do with politics or conspiracy, and that it’s just a great, true story, well-told."

There's no denying Angel Studios has courted some controversy with Sound of Freedom. If the lesson they take from that is that they need more movies and TV shows that deliberately stoke the flames of discourse, then it will be hard to deny that the studio isn't pushing an agenda of one kind or another.

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Sound of Freedom

PG-13

Action

Biography

Drama

Where to Watch

*Availability in US

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Based on the story of government agent Tim Ballard, Sound of Freedom is a dramatized-action film that follows Ballard as he heads to Colombia to break up a sex trafficking ring and save the children within it. After feeling like his work in the United States isn't having the intended effect, Ballard decides to investigate further, learning that a former victim is still being held captive in Colombia.

Director
Alejandro Monteverde

Release Date
July 4, 2023

Cast
Jim Caviezel , Mira Sorvino , Bill Camp , Eduardo Verastegui , Javier Godino , José Zúñiga

Runtime
131 Minutes
Is Angel Studios Mormon? Everything To Know About The Christian Movie Company (2024)
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