There had been some grumblings around town that “Sound of Freedom” was only a box-office hit because of Angel Studios‘ Pay-It-Forward system, in which moviegoers could effectively buy another ticket for a complete stranger. Angel Studios just cleared that talk right up.

In a Monday blog post, Angel broke down “Sound of Freedom’s” near-$250 million global box-office haul. The donation system brought in $26.1 million in contributions from individuals, which was enough for 1.82 million free tickets. Not all of them were redeemed.

In all, $21.7 million of that $26.1 million was actually claimed and used for tickets, which means roughly 9 percent of the film‘s quarter-billion-dollar box-office revenue box came from strangers prepaying for strangers. The usage rate was twice that on opening day gross.

The system proved quite lucrative for Angel Studios — but it was not pure profit. The company spent $6.4 million marketing the program and sacrificed another $1.1 million to third-party ticketing fees. The blog post shows negative cash flow for the program, but that is because Angel had already counted the redemptions revenue in its “Total Box Office” line item; Pay-It-Forward did not actually lose money.

As such, we’ll likely be hearing about Pay-It-Forward again with the release of “Cabrini” — from the same director as “Sound of Freedom” — when it opens in theaters this weekend.

“Sound of Freedom” is a drama about human trafficking of children and the story of Tim Ballard (Jim Caviezel), a former American agent turned vigilante who makes it his life mission to save children. Even beyond the box office, the film was a lightning rod for controversy, with the film’s real-life subject being accused of misconduct, of it being the focus of right-wing conspiracy theories, and of survivors who felt the film spreads misconceptions about the reality of human trafficking.

The film ended with a call-to-action link in which people who saw the film could contribute any amount they wished into a pool of money. Angel then offered unique redemption codes for tickets through email and other forms of marketing, and an individual could cash in those codes through a ticketing platform like Fandango or Atom Tickets.

Angel Studios is an equity crowdfunding organization, in which a group of investors and shareholders help shape decision-making at the studio and can directly share in the overall profits for individual projects in which they invest. The success of “Sound of Freedom” paid back investors at a rate of 120 percent (in 59 days) of their initial investment toward $5 million of the film’s P&A costs, Angel Studios said. The model had previously paid dividends on some of Angel’s past releases.

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