On Palm Sunday weekend, heading into Holy Week, a Christian film about Abraham’s sacrificing Isaac in Genesis 22 outpunched “Creed III” and “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” at the box office, coming in a respectable third behind “Dungeons & Dragons” and “John Wick: Chapter 4.”
“His Only Son” raked in $5.5 million in its opening weekend, securing 2,000 screens, despite a comparatively small marketing budget, which Angel Studios raised through crowdfunding. Jordan Harmon, president of Angel Studios, told The Daily Signal on Wednesday that the film has secured more screens for Easter weekend than it had secured for its opening weekend.
“It’s an incredible Easter film that ties in Christ and his atonement. Such a beautiful movie,” Harmon said.
Harmon and the film’s creator, David Helling, sat down with The Daily Signal to discuss the Bible film and its success.
While Hollywood producers often act as gatekeepers, Harmon explained that Angel Studios decided to “turn those keys over to the audience,” trusting in “the wisdom of crowds” — specifically one crowd, the group of investors they refer to as The Angel Guild. Everyone who invested in Angel Studios projects such as “The Chosen,” “Tuttle Twins,” “David,” and now “His Only Son” has a say in the projects Angel Studios decides to produce, market, and distribute. The guild consists of nearly 100,000 people.
“Those people become guild members, and they get access to prototypes and short films, and we call those ‘torches,’” the president explained.
Helling came to Angel Studios with the movie, and the Angel Guild voted to invest in it. Specifically, Angel Studios paid to market the film, raising $1.235 million in less than 100 hours in a crowdfunding effort.
“The real crux of the story is, you’ve got this beautiful film that the Angel Guild … basically came in and said, ‘We want ‘His Only Son’ to exist. We want it to get out to the world. We love this.’ And this is a film that had been rejected by Hollywood,” Harmon explained.
Critics have rated the film “fresh” with a 78% rating, according to RottenTomatoes, while 96% of audiences liked it. Audiences liked it so much, in fact, that they paid to give free tickets to more than 16,000 people, the Angel Studios president said.
Angel Studios allows supporters to purchase tickets for other people by going to angel.com/pay-it-forward. That feature allows supporters to buy viewings of shows such as “The Chosen” and movies like “His Only Son” for other people, so those others can watch them for free. Audiences merely need to download the Angel app to watch shows such as “The Chosen,” and they can also go to angel.com/freetickets to reserve free theater tickets for “His Only Son.”
Helling said his inspiration for the film traces back almost 15 years, when he was serving with the Marines in Iraq.
“The Lord got hold of my heart and opened my eyes to the truth of his Word, the truth of his Gospel,” he said. “And from that moment on, I could see the people in history, in the biblical narrative, as real people, and I wanted to show others. So, I endeavored from that moment on as a heart cry and as my life’s mission, to illustrate and exposit the biblical narrative through film, and to bring Scripture’s truth from the page to the screen.
Helling attended film school after his honorable discharge from the Marines, and he produced biblical shorts for about 10 years. He began working on “His Only Son” about five-and-a-half years ago.
“His Only Son” tells the story of Genesis 22, when God orders Abraham to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice. God had promised Abraham and wife Sarah a son and to make his descendants into a great nation, even though Sarah was too old to bear children. After years of waiting and doubt, Sarah finally gave birth to Isaac, only for God to order Abraham to kill this promised child.
Abraham illustrates his great faith by preparing to offer his Son, but—spoiler alert!—God stops him right before he can carry out the killing blow.
Helling noted that when Abraham and Isaac are preparing the sacrifice, the son asks questions, and Abraham replies, “God himself will provide a lamb for the burnt offering.” Yet God provides a ram for the offering, instead.
“Well, that’s a ram. That’s not the lamb,” the filmmaker said. “That’s not just a different word in English. It’s a different word in Hebrew. So, the motif of the lamb, obviously, carries on through Passover, it carries on … until you get to John 1, and you’ve got Christ approaching John the Baptist at the River Jordan. He says, ‘Behold the lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world.’”
The promise that Abraham made to Isaac was finally fulfilled when Jesus died on the cross on Calvary, the same place that Abraham offered up his son, Helling said. “His Only Son” tells that story, a particularly fitting tale for Holy Week.
Audiences can go to angel.com/son to buy their own tickets.
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