The concept of cults has intrigued people for many years. From the outside looking in, it’s impossible to understand how people could be manipulated into joining cults that sometimes result in them harming others or taking their own lives. However, many people who have survived them have chosen to share their stories with the world. These stories have been featured in dozens of documentaries over the years – many of which have won awards and gotten attention all over the world. If you’re interested in learning about different cults, there are some very interesting documentary films out there that will give you an inside look. Here is our list of the 10 best documentaries about cults.
10. Manson: The Women
When many people think of cults, Charles Manson is probably one of the first people who comes to mind. In 2019, Oxygen released a documentary that focused on the women in Manson’s cult. The film features interviews with women who survived the cult as well as archival footage. Since the documentary is only about an hour-long, it’s not as comprehensive as some of the other films on this list, but it’s still worth checking out.
9. Sons of Perdition
The 2010 documentary Sons of Perdition provided an interesting look into the lives of teenage boys who have been kicked out of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon). However, being exiled from the church also meant being cut off from their families and everything they’d ever known. The film is heartbreaking yet insightful, and it will definitely open your eyes to the not-so-nice side of church culture.
8. The Source Family
Throughout history, humans have made many attempts to create utopian societies. On a surface level, these societies may seem like the ideal place to be. In practice, however, they are often anything but perfect. The Source Family in the 1970s was a prime example. Located in the Hollywood Hills, the Source Family was a spiritual commune founded by Father Yod. The documentary was released in 2012 and features interviews with former family members.
7. Waco: Rules of Engagement
The 1993 Waco Siege was one of the biggest moments of the decade. In April of that year, cult leader David Koresh and his followers fought back against the ATF during a raid of the cult’s compound. The documentary Waco: Rules of Engagement chronicles the event and its aftermath.
Oftentimes when people think about cults, they don’t consider how difficult it can be for former cult members to overcome the brainwashing and manipulation they’ve endured. The 2015 documentary Deprogrammed follows Ted ‘Black Lightning’ Patrick’s fight against cults through his method known as reverse brainwashing. Over the years, he has inspired other people to join in o the deprogramming movement and he has successfully helped countless people unlearn what was taught to them in cults.
5. The Lost Women Of NXIVM
NXIVM is one of the latest cults to make headlines. Founded by Keith Raniere in 1998, NXIVM was originally marketed as a ‘personal development company’. However, it has since been revealed that NXIVM was actually involved in human trafficking, forced labor, and other illegal activities. The Lost Women Of NXIVM centers around four women who were part of the cult who have since died or disappeared under unusual circumstances.
4. Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults
Throughout the years, there have been some cults that have been deadlier than others. Founded in the early 1970s, Heaven’s Gate was a cult disguised as a religious movement. In 1997, the group’s founder and nearly 40 of its members partook in a mass suicide. The 2020 documentary Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults explores the group’s history from the perspective of former Heaven’s Gate members and their loved ones.
3. Prophet’s Prey
While not considered a cult by many, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is often considered a cult. In 2015, the documentary Prophet’s Prey dives into the life of the organization’s leader, Warren Jeffs, who is currently serving a life sentence for rape.
2. Wild Wild Country
When Wild Wild Country was released on Netflix in 2018 it quickly took the world by storm. The documentary told the story of Rajneesh who started a religious community in Oregon called Rajneeshpuram. Although the organization initially appeared to have created a legitimate real-life utopia, things eventually started to change.
1. Children of God
The 1994 documentary Children of God may be the oldest one on our list, but it’s also the best. The film centers around Sylvia Padilla and her family, all of whom were members of a religious cult called The Family International. Children of God is raw and it served as the first time many people really got to see the realities of life in a cult.