All the Cult Related Documentaries, Films and TV Shows You Should Be Watching
From Netflix’s Wild Wild Country to Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master: a comprehensive guide of required viewing for cult connoisseurs and novices alike.
It’s safe to say that cults are having a bit of a moment in popular culture right now. That is thanks, in part, to the influx of miniseries, true crime documentaries and real life cult mysteries entering the cultural consciousness.
In 2016, there was Emma Cline’s debut novel, The Girls, a fictionalized account of the Manson Family, told from the perspective of the women in the cult. And now there’s even more of an influx of cult content, with the upcoming film The Haunting of Sharon Tate, in which Hilary Duff will play the actress and victim of murder at the hands of Charles Manson; Charlie Says, the Mary Harron directed film about the Manson family with Matt Smith in the title role; and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, the next highly anticipated Quentin Tarantino film, which takes place in 1969 Los Angeles and will feature Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, will be released exactly 50 years after the Manson Family murders. Even season two of the critically acclaimed and criminally underrated TBS series Search Party worked in a subplot wherein the accidental sleuth Portia (played by Meredith Hagner) acts in a play about the Tate-LaBianca murders.
The true crime trend on Netflix has now expanded to include documentaries about cults (not to be confused with documentaries with a cult following, which would be Making a Murderer or The Keepers). Once you’ve made your way through Wild Wild Country, the streaming giant’s six part docu-series about a community of followers in Oregon led by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in the 1980s, you’ll likely find yourself salivating for more tales that are stranger than fiction. And there are some great fictional narratives about cults (some of which are even inspired by the real deal) to watch as well that should be required viewing. Whether you are just beginning to dip your toes into the world of cults or find yourself to be a connoisseur of the subject, here is your syllabus of recommended content to consume.
Wild Wild Country
The Duplass Brothers executive produced this documentary about an alleged sex cult formed by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (later known as Osho), an Indian guru who owned multiple Rolls-Royces yet moved to a small town in Oregon in an attempt to create the most enlightened and free city in the world. Through archival footage, talking head interviews with members of the Rajneesh and former leader Ma Anand Sheela, directors Chapman and Maclain Way weave a fascinating web of some of the most twisted true stories to be given the Netflix treatment. Immigration fraud, orgies, attempted murder, the founder of Nike, bioterror—this documentary really does have it all. Citizens of Rajneeshpuram also only wore the color red, which admittedly makes the cult kind of accidentally stylish. One of the craziest parts of this story is that this community was constantly making national and local headlines in the 1980s, but seems to have been forgotten by the rest of the United States.
The Source Family
This documentary is a relatively tame one (compared to some of the other stories on this list). It follows the spiritual commune known as the Source Family and the psychedelic band Ya Ho Wha 13. Both were led by Father Yod (James Edward Baker), who is also the founder of the Source Restaurant, a health food restaurant on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. But before he founded the restaurant, he was convicted of murdering actress Jean Ingram’s husband in 1963, so Father Yod doesn’t get off scot free.
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Whether or not you define the Church of Scientology as a cult, this Emmy winning HBO documentary based on Lawrence Wright’s book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief will open your eyes to a whole host of issues surrounding Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and his Hollywood disciples, from John Travolta to Tom Cruise, and some lesser known ex-members of the Church and their stories of abuse. Of course, once you finish watching Going Clear, ex-member Leah Remini’s award-winning A&E series Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath is required viewing.
Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple
The Jonestown Massacre, or mass poison-assisted suicide, took place in 1978, just 3 years before Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh settled his community in Oregon, and in an early episode of Wild Wild Country, an interview with Oprah Winfrey shows the media maven asking the followers of Rajneeshpuram if they are concerned they have another Jonestown on their hands, an inquiry they adamantly reject. Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple is an award winning 2006 documentary that uncovers the truth behind the motives of cult leader-slash-reverend Jim Jones and his 900 followers known as The Peoples Temple in Guyana.
American Horror Story: Cult
In his seventh season of American Horror Story, Ryan Murphy tackled the 2016 Presidential Election and its aftermath along with clowns and cults. In other words, he did way too much. But the exploration of the groupthink and paranoia, and what constitutes a community of leaders and followers (plus a cameo from Lena Dunham as Valerie Solanas) makes this season worth watching.
Friday Night Lights and True Detective star Taylor Kitsch plays David Koresh in Waco, a miniseries based on the 1993 siege and massacre of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. This fictionalized account outlines how the religious sect and the FBI engaged in a 51-day-long standoff between February 28 and April 19, 1993, until the FBI attacked the compound with tear gas, and culminated in a fire (some dispute this and believe members of the Branch Davidians started the fire themselves) which killed 76 people. Rory Culkin, Melissa Benoist, Michael Shannon and Julia Garner co-star in this six part series on the Paramount Network.
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Written and directed by Sean Durkin, this film follows a young woman’s attempt to re-enter society and rehabilitate herself after escaping from an abusive cult. Elizabeth Olsen plays Martha, an escapee of a cult in the Catskills, Sarah Paulson plays her older sister Lucy, and John Hawkes plays a cult leader. Christopher Abbott (Charlie from Girls) and Julia Garner co-star in this thriller.
Joaquin Phoenix joins Philip Seymour Hoffman’s religious group “The Cause,”, which drew many comparisons to the Church of Scientology in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2012 film. Also, another Friday Night Lights alum, Jesse Plemons aka Landry Clarke, is in this one so that should be motivation enough to give this a try if you haven’t seen it by now.
Why do people exercise their free will to join cults when there have been so many examples of why you probably shouldn’t join them? The Invitation gives a tragic, almost reasonable answer to that question, when a man and his girlfriend are invited to his ex-wife’s dinner party in the Hollywood Hills (side note: why are so many cult goings-on happening in the Hollywood Hills?), but once they arrive, everything and everyone seems a bit…off. Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation isn’t necessarily about a cult, per se, but it does showcase a fictional spiritual philosophy group called “The Invitation,” which offers a good example of how cult-ish communities can appeal to even the most levelheaded.
Related: The 8 Best Netflix Original Movies to Stream
Cult Classics for the World’s Top Models
DIVINE WHITE MISSION
Models Lara Stone at IMG, Bella Hadid at IMG, Anna Ewers at Women, Frederikke Sofie at DNA, Jamilla Hoogenboom at Women, Maartje Verhoef at Women, Ondria Hardin at DNA, Jing Wen at Supreme, Julia Hafstrom at IMG wear, from left: Simone Rocha dress. Kenzo dress. Erdem gown. Céline blouse and pants. Céline shirt and pants. Simone Rocha dress and cape. Céline dress and pants. Boss dress, top, and sweater; Anne Fontaine neck piece; Mokuba ribbon. Salvatore Ferragamo dress; Anne Fontaine neck piece; Caroline Constas ruffle collar; Mokuba ribbon. Cornelia James gloves; Falke tights; Dansko shoes (on all).
Models Ava McAvoy and Grace Bol at Elite. All clothing and accessories Saint Laurent; Wolford tights Beauty note: No need to hide, thanks to Sephora Collection Revitalizing Booster.
Models Kris Gottschalk at Elite, Tamy Glauser at Marilyn, Mia Rae at Trump. All clothing and accessories Saint Laurent; Wolford tights (on all). Beauty note: No need to hide, thanks to Sephora Collection Revitalizing Booster.
THE ORDER OF ROSE-CRUCIANS
Models Jamie Bochert at The Lions, Katie Moore at Trump, Irina Kravchenko at Women, Lexi Boling at IMG. All dresses, bracelets, and tights Balenciaga. Beauty note: Your complexion will garner a following with AmorePacific Age Correcting Foundation Cushion.
THE ORDER OF ROSE-CRUCIANS
Models Jamie Bochert at The Lions, Katie Moore at Trump, Irina Kravchenko at Women, Lexi Boling at IMG. All dresses, tights, and shoes Balenciaga.
BLACK ROSE MINISTRY
Models Issa Lish at Muse, Julia Nobis at DNA, Bella Hadid at IMG, Jamie Bochert at The Lions, Lexi Boling at IMG, Irina Shayk at The Lions wear, from left: Calvin Klein Collection dress; Bijou Van Ness headpiece; Cornelia James gloves. Marc Jacobs sweater and skirt. Fendi blouse and dress; Worth & Worth by Orlando Palacios hat; Cornelia James gloves. Marc Jacobs dress. Marc Jacobs sweatshirt, blouse, and skirt; Bijou Van Ness headpiece. Sacai blouson and skirts; Bijou Van Ness headpiece; Oscar de la Renta belt. Wolford tights; Marc Jacobs boots (on all).
BLACK ROSE MINISTRY
Model Karen Elson at The Lions wears Molly Goddard dresses; Bijou Van Ness headpiece; Cornelia James gloves; Marc Jacobs boots. Beauty note: Bring cheeks back to life with Burberry Limited Edition London With Love Palette.
THE WAY INTERNATIONAL
Models Irina Shayk at The Lions, Anna Ewers at Women, Bella Hadid at IMG, Lexi Boling at IMG, Jamie Bochert at The Lions, Avery Blanchard at IMG, Joan Smalls at IMG, Marland Backus at New York Models, Julia Nobis at DNA. Clockwise, from front, center: Michael Kors Collection blouse and skirt. Dior coat and turtleneck. Stella McCartney blouse and skirt. DKNY jacket, shirt, and pants. Proenza Schouler coat, top, and pants. Loewe dress. Jil Sander jacket, top, and skirt. Boss jacket, top, and pants. Giorgio Armani cape, shirt, and pants. Falconiere bonnets; Falke tights; Birkenstock sandals (on all). Beauty note: For a heavenly complexion, try L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Brightening Peel Pads.
GIVENCHY IDENTITY SOCIETY
Model Joan Smalls at IMG wears Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci jackets, turtleneck, and shorts; Tuleste rings; Altuzarra boots; stylist’s own earrings. Beauty note: Look like you worship the sun, with Estée Lauder Limited Edition Gelée Bronzer.
GIVENCHY IDENTITY SOCIETY
Models Lineisy Montero at Next, Amilna Estevao at The Society wear, from left: Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci jackets, turtleneck, shorts, and boots. Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci jackets, turtleneck, shorts, and belt; Tuleste rings; Altuzarra boots. Stylist’s own earrings (on both).
DENIM REALIZATION MOVEMENT
Models Anna Ewers at Women, Lara Stone at IMG, Ondria Hardin at DNA, Frederikke Sofie at DNA, Jamilla Hoogenboom at Women wear, from left: Miu Miu coat, shirt, and skirt. Miu Miu jacket, cardigan, and skirt. Sonia Rykiel dress and belt. Roberto Cavalli coat. Miu Miu jacket and skirt. RetroSuperFuture glasses; Reebok sneakers (on all).
Models Kris Gottschalk at Elite, Marland Backus at New York Models, Ruth Bell at The Society, Frederikke Sofie at DNA, Ondria Hardin at DNA, Harleth Kuusik at The Society, Julia Nobis at DNA, Jamilla Hoogenboom at Women, Lexi Boling at IMG. Front: Lanvin dress. Middle row, from left: Valentino dress and turtleneck. Valentino dress. Hermès dress; LaCrasia Gloves gloves. Bottega Veneta dress and top. Back row, from left: The Row dress. Valentino dress. Proenza Schouler dress. Beauty note: Brighten up with Jane Iredale BeautyPrep Face Moisturizer.
CHILDREN OF MIUCCIA
Models Lara Stone at IMG, Irina Shayk at The Lions, Karen Elson at The Lions, Anna Ewers at Women, Bella Hadid at IMG. All clothing, accessories, tights, and shoes Prada. Beauty note: Let L’Oréal Paris Infallible Pro-Glow Foundation lock in your look.
Models Irina Kravchenko at Women, Lexi Boling at IMG, Jamilla Hoogenboom at Women. All clothing and shoes Jacquemus. Beauty note: Free your hair with Shu Uemura Essence Absolue.
Models Mia Rae at Trump, Tamy Glauser at Marilyn, Ava McAvoy at Elite, Ruth Bell at The Society, Grace Bol at Elite. Clockwise, from front, right: Missoni dresses. Gucci gown. Chloé dress; Hue socks; Valentino Garavani shoes. Carolina Herrera gown. Chloé top and skirt.
FOUNDATION OF FASHION UNDERSTANDING
Models Irina Shayk at The Lions, Li Xiaoxing at Women, Bella Hadid at IMG, Greta Varlese at The Society, Grace Bol at Elite, Lexi Boling at IMG, Joan Smalls at IMG, Mia Rae at Trump, Kris Gottschalk at Elite, Tamy Glauser at Marilyn, Leila Goldkuhl at Next, Julia Hafstrom at IMG, Ruth Bell at The Society. Front row, from left: Fenty Puma by Rihanna top, hat, and briefs; Hood by Air boots. Hood by Air jacket and skirt; Vetements boots. Fenty Puma by Rihanna dress and hoodie; Vetements hat; DKNY boots. Second row, from left: Vetements hoodie, sweatpants, and boots. Fenty Puma by Rihanna hoodie; American Apparel beanie; Alexander Wang choker; Diesel Black Gold boots. Vetements jacket, hoodie, and boots. Yeezy Season 3 jacket and pants; Hood by Air boots. Third row, from left: Fenty Puma by Rihanna hoodie and pants; Hood by Air boots. Hood by Air jacket and boots; Fenty Puma by Rihanna hoodie. Hood by Air jacket and boots.
Models Issa Lish at Muse, Fei Fei Sun at Women, Jing Wen at Supreme. All clothing and earrings Louis Vuitton. Beauty note: Kérastase L’Incroyable Blowdry will make your hair obey.
CRIMSON FAMILY FELLOWSHIP
Models Issa Lish at Muse, Daan van der Deen at Soul, Ava McAvoy at Elite, Katie Moore at Trump, Kris Gottschalk at Elite, Tamy Glauser at Marilyn, Mia Rae at Trump, Greta Varlese at The Society, Grace Bol at Elite, Lexi Boling at IMG, Joan Smalls at IMG, Bella Hadid at IMG, Jamie Bochert at The Lions, Cameron Kelley at Red, Karen Elson at The Lions, Fei Fei Sun at Women. On female models, clockwise, from front, left: Marni tunic. American Apparel hoodie; Hood by Air trousers. Stella McCartney dress. Dress from Alias Costume Rental, New York. Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh coat. Dress from Alias Costume Rental, New York. Madame Grès gown from Southpaw, New York. Dress from Alias Costume Rental, New York. Chanel dress. Hood by Air top. Simone Rocha dress. Chanel jacket and skirt. Rosamosario robe. Gucci gown. Chanel pullover, skirt, and scarf. Chanel coat. Chanel dress and scarf. Simone Rocha dress and gloves. Chanel jacket and dress. Burberry dress. Chanel dress and hat. G.H. Bass & Co. shoes (on all).
Models Grace Bol at Elite, Tamy Glauser at Marilyn, Ava McAvoy at Elite, Ruth Bell at The Society, Mia Rae at Trump wear, from left: Chloé top and skirt. Chloé dress. Carolina Herrera gown. Missoni dresses. Gucci gown.
Hair by Shay Ashual at Art Partner; makeup by Isamaya Ffrench for Yves Saint Laurent Beauty at Streeters; manicures by Naomi Yasuda for Dior at Streeters. Set design by Andrea Stanley at Streeters. Models: Frederikke Sofie, Julia Nobis, and Ondria Hardin at DNA Model Management; Ava McAvoy, Grace Bol, and Kris Gottschalk at Elite; Avery Blanchard, Bella Hadid, Joan Smalls, Julia Hafstrom, Lara Stone, and Lexi Boling at IMG Models; Irina Shayk, Jamie Bochert, and Karen Elson at the Lions NY; Tamy Glauser at Marilyn Agency; Issa Lish at Muse Management; Leila Goldkuhl, Lineisy Montero, and Odette Pavlova at Next Management; Marland Backus and Sarah Brannon at New York Model Management; Cameron Kelley at Red; Yuri Pleskun at Request Model Management; Amilna Estevao, Greta Varlese, Harleth Kuusik, and Ruth Bell at the Society Management; Daan Van Der Deen and Kit Butler at Soul Artist Management; Jing Wen at Supreme Management; Katie Moore and Mia Rae at Trump Models; Anna Ewers, Fei Fei Sun, Irina Kravchenko, Jamilla Hoogenboom, Li Xiaoxing, and Maartje Verhoef at Women Management.
Produced by Red Hook Labs; Executive Producer: Simon Malivindi; Line Producer: Sara Mouzayanni; Production Coordinators: Peter Schwab, Dion Olivier. Digital Technicians: Niccolo Pacilli, Jeronimo de Moraes; Photography Assistants: Sinclair Jaspard Mandy, Pawel Woznicki, Kevin Jude, Michael Didyoung; Fashion Assistants: Ryann Foulke, Dena Giannini, Sam Walker, Anita Lau, Nataleigh LaLonde, Lauren Bensky, Ava Ravich, Alyssa Pena, Paige Viti; Hair Assistants: Taichi Saito, Sean Mikael, Shu Yamaga, Rebekah Calo, Adlena Dignam, Taylor Bond, Levi Monarch; Makeup Assistants: Laura Stiassni, Kate Romanoff, Kumi Hosoda, Andrew Colvin, Miriam Robstad, Marie Schumacher, Ryo Kuramoto, Satsuki Soma; Manicure Assistants: Tracy Kawaii, Naoko Saita; Production Assistants: Ted Gusek, Kevin Doherty, Miles Soboleski, Kevin Warner, Greg De Seve, Michael Follen, Kyle Brown, Jacob Lavin, Phoebe Chung.