The best cult documentaries allow us an insight into the inner workings of some of the strangest groups from around the world. The best documentaries about cults are funny, intriguing and always have a bizarre element to them.
At the head of every cult, there is usually an enigmatic cult leader with varying degrees of outlandish beliefs. Most ooze charisma in their own unique way and are power-hungry. They often implement authoritarian systems that are layered in cultural and religious practices that entice outsiders in.
All cults have an indoctrination process that enforces the broader views of the group and teaches new members how to behave. Usually, at the forefront of these views is absolute devotion to a central leader.
Wild Wild Country took Netflix fans by storm earlier this year, and it’s one of the numerous titles in the subgenre that unearth controversial practices surrounding religious groups.
Check out our list of the 13 best cult documentaries that you need to check out and their trailers for you to enjoy.
14. Wild Wild Country – Rajneesh Movement
The six-part series follows the rise and fall of a spiritual cult based in the west coast of Oregon during the 1980s. It was founded by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in India during the early 1990s. The group then moved to the United States to set up a commune. They created Rajneeshpuram, a near 65,00-acre ranch that took over the local area and ended up poisoning the local community.
You’ll be left stunned as the bizarre events unfold and it’s one of the best cult documentaries on Netflix.
13. Holy Hell – Buddhafield
The Buddhafield movement started in California before moving to Hawaii, where it still operates from today. Like many cult documentaries, it follows an ex-member, Will Allen, who was part of the cult for 22 years. The movie comprises all the footage he recorded as a member and also follows up with other ex-members to paint a scary picture of the group’s leader, Michel Rostand.
12. Going Clear – Scientology
Going Clear is one of the best cult documentaries going and is arguably the definitive guide on the cult. Alex Gibney does a great job of digging up ex-members and delves into the details of the secretive organisation. It highlights the abuses that take place within the group and explain the bizarre manner in which L. Ron Hubbard set up the group. David Miscavige, the current leader, is also shrouded in secrecy.
11. Prophets Prey – FLDS
This cult documentary follows the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or as they are better known, Mormons. The cult is renowned for the polygamy they allow to flourish among its membership. Amy Berg’s cult documentary centres around the group’s leader, Warren Jeffs. Despite being in prison serving a life sentence for raping two teenage girls, he still manages to run the cult.
10. The Life and Death of Peoples Temple – Peoples Temple
It’s one of the best cult documentaries on the Jonestown massacre and a must-watch for anyone who has read up on the event. The Tribeca-winning documentary focuses on Jim Jones, who started the cult in Guyana. Unfortunately, the mass suicide he instigated in 1978 resulted in the death of 918 members.
9. Children of God – The Family
The Family is a religious cult where the sexual abuse of children is common practice. It was started in the mid-1960s by Anne Hamilton-Byrne. The documentary interviews one Family and their experiences growing up in the cult. Rose McGowan and Joaquin Phoenix, the famous Hollywood stars, were born into The Family but escaped with relatives when they were younger.
8. Waco: The Rules of Engagement – Branch Davidians
This Oscar-nominated film is one of the best cult documentaries going. Williams Gazecki’s film follows the 1993 Waco incident with the cult group Branch Davidians. David Koresh is their leader, and his actions led to a 51-day FBI standoff which results in the death of himself and 82 followers.
7. Manson – Manson Family
The Manson Family was an infamous commune led by charismatic leader Charles Manson during the 1960s. The group murdered Sharon Tate and four others, believing that Manson was an incarnation of Jesus. The 1973 Oscar-nominated cult documentary provides insight into the Family with interviews with Manson and other former members, plus a look into their Devil’s Canyon base.
6. Heaven’s Gate – The Untold True Story – Heaven’s Gate
While most of the other cult documentaries on our list follow a religion, Heaven’s Gate takes a look at a UFO cult. The San-Diego based outfit that started in 1974 with Marshall Applewhite as the leader. The documentary, which is directed by Sergio Myers, tells the story of a mass suicide in 1997 where 39 members ended their lives to try and reach an alien spacecraft,
5. The Source Family – The Source Family
Father Yod, born James Edward Baker, founded The Source Family as a commune based in the Hollywood Hills in the late 60s. Jodie Willie’s film tells the story of the oddball leader who later fled to Hawaii and brought the group with him. Unlike other cult documentaries on our list, The Source Family isn’t half as tragic but still as bizarre.
4. A – Aum Shinrikyo Cult
The Aum Shinrikyo cult is best known for carrying out the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system. It resulted in the death of 12 people and injured nearly 1000 others. The 1998 documentary, directed by Tatsuya Mori follows a spokesperson from the group who had to cut ties with his family to join the cult.
3. The Cult At The End Of The World – Strong City
Often referred to as the Lord Our Righteousness Church, Strong City was a religious cult based out of New Mexico and founded by Michael Travesser. As far as cult documentaries go, it’s a little different because it follows them in real-time. Ben Anthony directs as Travesser tells his members that the world will end in 2007.
2. Guerrilla: The Taking Of Patty Hearst – Symbionese Liberation Army
The SLA was a domestic terrorist organisation with left-wing ideals that operated for two years between 1973 and 1975. They killed two people, robbed numerous banks, and committed a plethora of other violent acts. Robert Stone’s cult documentary investigates the kidnapping of Patty Heart, a 19-year-old girl that was sexually assaulted and then brainwashed.
1. The Most Hated Family in America – Westboro Baptist Church
I am a huge Louis Theroux fan, and I think this has to be one of the best cult documentaries ever. He injects his unique style to bring the absurdity of the group to light for a wider audience. Fred Phelps started the cult, and they believe all homosexuals are going to hell. They are a controversial group who picked dead U.S soldiers’ funerals.
What are your favourite cult documentaries? Have we missed any big ones out? Let us know in the comments below.
Make sure to also check out our list of the best shows like the Peaky Blinders