16 finest cult documentaries to observe, ‘Mom God’ to NXIVM


Name it an indication of the unusual occasions by which we reside, when disinformation and conspiracy theories run rampant on social media, however a decade after TV’s true crime renaissance started, the cult documentary is having a breakout second. In 2023 alone, we had dueling collection about Twin Flames Universe, “Love Has Received: The Cult of Mom God,” an exploration of Larry Ray and the so-called “intercourse cult” at Sarah Lawrence, and a four-part documentary on Synanon, the Santa Monica drug-rehab program turned armed extremist group.

For individuals who can’t get sufficient content material about new spiritual actions, high-control teams and non secular sects of all types, we’ve compiled a listing of the most effective documentaries on the topic you’ll be able to stream proper now.

Two young women sitting at a table with a laptop before the image of a third young woman.

Aurora and Hope in “Love Has Received: The Cult of Mom God.”


“Love Has Received: The Cult of Mom God” (Max)

This documentary opens with bodycam footage of police discovering the mummified physique of a lady named Amy Carlson, wrapped in a sleeping bag and Christmas lights — and it solely will get extra disturbing from there. Higher identified to her followers as “Mom God,” Carlson led a small, cult-like group known as Love Has Received, which was based mostly within the tiny city of Crestone, Colo., and espoused an incoherent mishmash of New Age spirituality and web conspiracy theories reminiscent of QAnon. The group additionally believed it was guided by the “Galactics,” an eclectic mixture of (principally useless) celebrities that included Steve Irwin, Robin Williams, Carrie Fisher and Donald Trump. In livestreams, they preached the virtues of marijuana and alcohol as “medication” and peddled doubtful merchandise reminiscent of colloidal silver.

Directed by Hannah Olson, this riveting three-episode collection chart’s Carlson’s unusual journey from Kansas-born mom of three and McDonald’s supervisor to self-proclaimed non secular guru. As a substitute of counting on cult specialists or lecturers to offer context, Olson largely tells this story from the attitude of Carlson and her followers — making “Love Has Received” a really unsettling watch.

 Reverend Jim Jones and his wife, Marceline, taken from a photo album left behind in Jonestown, Guyana.

Jim Jones and his spouse, Marceline, in a picture taken from a pink picture album left behind within the village of the useless in Jonestown, Guyana. Jones led greater than 900 members of his cult to a painful dying in 1978.

(Bettmann Archive / Getty Photographs)

“Jonestown: The Life and Loss of life of Peoples Temple” (Kanopy) and “Jonestown: Terror within the Jungle” (AMC+)

It has been 45 years since greater than 900 members of Peoples Temple — some 250 of them beneath the age of 18 — died by ingesting cyanide-laced fruit punch within the jungles of Guyana in a mass murder-suicide. The query of how Jim Jones, a power-mad, drug-addicted con artist, was capable of persuade them to do the unthinkable continues to hang-out the collective reminiscence — and sits on the coronary heart of those documentaries, which keep away from sensationalism and earnestly try to grapple with the enchantment of Peoples Temple. Each characteristic interviews with the scant few members who made it out of Jonestown alive and embrace chilling audio and video footage of Jones’ closing, frenzied hours.

Directed by veteran filmmaker Stanley Nelson, “Jonestown: The Life and Loss of life of Peoples Temple” is especially efficient at demonstrating how the charismatic preacher constructed a big, numerous congregation utilizing a message of financial equality and racial justice. Based mostly on Jeff Guinn’s guide “The Highway to Jonestown,” which was launched to coincide with the fortieth anniversary of Jonestown in 2018, “Terror within the Jungle” additionally examines the painful aftermath for traumatized survivors, who confronted invasive media protection, public scorn and painful jokes about Kool-Support.

A young woman writing on a laptop on her bed.

Marlee, former Twin Flames Universe member, within the docuseries “Escaping Twin Flames.”


“Escaping Twin Flames” (Netflix) and “Desperately Looking for Soulmate: Escaping Twin Flames Universe” (Prime Video)

Twin Flames Universe is a non secular group and self-help program that guarantees to assist singles discover their “twin flame,” or supreme romantic companion. Two documentaries, each launched this fall, heart on Jeff and Shaleia Ayan, the married couple who began TFU by rebranding the age-old idea of a “soul mate” and promoting it to a era weary of courting apps. The Ayans not solely satisfied their followers to pay for costly junk meals diets and on-line courses, they allegedly inspired them to take excessive, weird measures in an effort to obtain a “harmonious twin flame union” — chopping off members of the family and even transitioning gender.

Directed by Cecilia Peck, “Escaping Twin Flames” focuses extra on former members traumatized by their involvement with TFU — and the dad and mom and siblings determined to reconnect with indoctrinated family members. “Desperately Looking for Soulmate,” directed by Marina Zenovich, reveals extra in regards to the Ayans’ backstory and the way two totally common millennials harnessed the facility of the web to turn out to be rich, self-styled courting gurus who wielded monumental management over their followers, all from the consolation of their Michigan lounge.

Lit candles sit next to framed photos of young people

“Stolen Youth: Contained in the Cult at Sarah Lawrence” options first-hand interviews with con man Larry Ray’s victims.


“Stolen Youth: Contained in the Cult at Sarah Lawrence” (Hulu)

“Stolen Youth: Contained in the Cult at Sarah Lawrence” tells the baffling, heartbreaking story of how Larry Ray, a middle-aged father, moved into his daughter’s dorm at Sarah Lawrence Faculty in suburban New York, befriended her roommates and proceeded to coerce and abuse them for the subsequent decade. (Ray was convicted in 2022 on federal fees of intercourse trafficking, extortion and racketeering.)

Directed by Zach Heinzerling, “Stolen Youth” doesn’t actually clarify what made Ray so alluring, and viewers are left to ponder the thriller of why these completed, well-meaning younger individuals derailed their lives for such an apparent charlatan. The dearth of a transparent reply makes the collection all of the extra highly effective.

A couple sitting for an interview on a couch.

Jill and Derick Dillard in “Shiny Completely satisfied Folks.”

(Prime Video)

“Shiny Completely satisfied Folks: Duggar Household Secrets and techniques” (Prime Video)

This four-part documentary peels again the Duggars’ healthful actuality TV facade to discover the notorious household’s connections to the Institute in Fundamental Life Ideas, an ultraconservative, extremely influential spiritual ministry that many former adherents, together with Jill Duggar, have described as a cult. Its founder, Invoice Gothard, promoted complete feminine submission to male authority, urging his followers to shun contraception, brief skirts and public faculty — but has been accused of sexual misconduct involving quite a few ladies and women.

Directed by Julia Willoughby Nason and Olivia Crist, “Shiny Completely satisfied Folks” makes the case that “19 Youngsters and Counting” and spinoff “Counting On” put an anodyne gloss on the Duggars’ excessive fundamentalism and served as a televised ministry. It additionally connects the dots between the group’s hardline teachings, the political energy of the Christian proper and the downfall of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar’s eldest son, Josh, who was convicted of possessing and receiving baby pornography and is now serving a 12½-year jail sentence.

A man making a prayer gesture while being videotaped and photographed outside a car.

Bhagwan Rajneesh in “Wild Wild Nation.”


“Wild Wild Nation” (Netflix)

When this collection was launched in 2018, few Individuals remembered the weird saga of the Rajneeshees, devotees of a Rolls Royce-driving Indian mystic named Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (later often called Osho) who got here to nationwide consideration within the mid-Eighties after they had been accused of poisoning tons of of individuals through restaurant salad bars. The hit documentary turned the forgotten cult — identified for its crimson and orange clothes — right into a popular culture obsession.

Over six engrossing episodes wealthy with archival footage, administrators Chapman and Maclain Method inform the story of how the Bhagwan’s followers took over a 65,000-acre ranch close to the tiny city of Antelope, Ore., and reworked it into Rajneeshpuram, a thriving village with its personal pizza parlor and financial institution. There, the Rajneeshees hoped to farm and apply “dynamic meditation,” a cycle of breathing-shouting-stomping-silence developed by the Bhagwan. As a substitute, they discovered themselves at odds with extra conventional neighbors, who had been cautious of the “intercourse cult” down the highway and particularly Ma Anand Sheela, the Bhagwan’s charismatic private secretary. Each absurdly entertaining and thought-provoking, “Wild Wild Nation” has all of the staples of a cult documentary — bizarre outfits, uncommon sexual habits, white individuals appropriating Jap spirituality. Nevertheless it additionally raises essential questions on spiritual freedom and who will get to consider what on the American frontier.

A white-haired man looks directly in a camera before a purple background.

Marshall Herff Applewhite, also referred to as “Do,” in “Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults.”


“Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults” (Max)

In 1997, 39 members of Heaven’s Gate, a celibate spiritual sect, died in a mass ritual suicide timed to the method of the Hale-Bopp Comet. The deceased, who had purple cloths draped neatly over their faces and wore an identical black Nikes, believed they had been going to be picked up in a UFO that will take them to the “Subsequent Degree,” the next airplane of existence. The cult — and its sporty alternative in footwear — shortly grew to become a nationwide punchline, with members portrayed as hopeless crackpots who’d watched too many episodes of “Star Trek.”

However “Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults,” a four-part collection directed by Clay Tweel, goes past the wild-eyed caricature to inform the story of how Bonnie Lu Nettles and Marshall Herff Applewhite, non secular seekers who befriended one another within the Seventies, renamed themselves “Ti” and “Do” and attracted a faithful following via beliefs that melded apocalyptic Christianity with the spaceships and extraterrestrials of science fiction. This empathetic four-part collection, that includes interviews with former members and cult specialists, reveals a gaggle of people that had been all too human, regardless of desperately desirous to be extra.

A woman in glasses, a beige blazer and an orange scarf.

Sarah Edmondson in “The Vow” on Max.


“The Vow” (Max) and “Seduced: Contained in the NXIVM Cult” (Starz )

These docuseries had been launched inside weeks of one another in 2020 and took very totally different approaches to telling the story of NXIVM, a self-help multilevel advertising and marketing firm turned “intercourse cult,” and its chief, Keith Raniere, who was accused of coercing ladies into sexual servitude, branding their flesh and happening extremely restrictive diets. Raniere is now serving a 120-year jail sentence on racketeering and intercourse trafficking fees.

Directed by Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer, “The Vow” follows NXIVM members Mark Vicente, Bonnie Piesse and Sarah Edmondson over the course of a number of years as they extricate themselves from the group. With prolonged recordings of furtive telephone calls and in depth footage of Raniere waxing philosophically throughout late-night volleyball video games doled out over 9 elliptical episodes, “The Vow” takes its time to get to its most stunning revelations. (Season 2 focuses on Raniere’s trial.)

Directed by Cecilia Peck, “Seduced: Contained in the NXIVM Cult” is extra linear and direct — and quicker to disclose the severity of Raniere’s crimes. The four-episode collection focuses on India Oxenberg and her journey into — and out of — NXIVM, the place she was allegedly groomed to turn out to be one in every of Raniere’s sexual companions. The collection additionally follows her mom, “Dynasty” actress Catherine Oxenberg, as she fights to get her daughter out of the cult.

Four women in conservative purple dresses with their hands behind their backs, standing in a wood.

A picture from “Preserve Candy: Pray and Obey,” Netflix’s docuseries about Warren Jeffs’ Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints.


“Preserve Candy: Pray and Obey” (Netflix)

This four-part docuseries presents an in-depth take a look at the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a polygamist sect whose chief and so-called prophet, Warren Jeffs, is serving a life sentence plus 20 years for the sexual assault of two women. “Preserve Candy” consists of archival footage, photographs and audio recordings that exhibit, with chilling readability, how males claiming to be holy had been capable of sexually exploit ladies and youngsters for many years. Whereas there may be some dialogue of the prairie attire and the frilly braided hairstyles that captivated the media after the 2008 legislation enforcement raid on the Craving for Zion Ranch in Texas, “Preserve Candy” focuses on the tales of survivors — impossibly courageous ladies like Elissa Wall, who was married off to her abusive 19-year-old cousin on the age of 14 however later escaped and testified towards Jeffs.

The Church of Scientology of Los Angeles is pictured on Sunset Boulevard

The Church of Scientology of Los Angeles.

(Chris Pizzello / Related Press)

“Going Clear: Scientology and the Jail of Perception” (Max)

The Church of Scientology has been considered with skepticism for the reason that Fifties, when L. Ron Hubbard determined to repackage the contents of his self-help bestseller “Dianetics” as a faith. However the group’s public picture took a devastating hit with the discharge of Alex Gibney’s eye-opening documentary, “Going Clear: Scientology and the Jail of Perception,” in 2015. Although it wasn’t the primary exposé of the group, the HBO movie, based mostly on “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Jail of Perception” by New Yorker author Lawrence Wright, introduced a concise, damning critique from an Oscar-winning documentarian to probably the most prestigious community on tv.

In simply two hours, “Going Clear” covers numerous floor: Although it paints Hubbard as an abusive rip-off artist, it makes the case that successor David Miscavige, who efficiently battled the IRS to acquire tax-exempt standing for the church, could be even worse. It outlines the core beliefs of Scientology: the auditing course of, the “Bridge to Whole Freedom,” the Xenu creation delusion. Former church executives like Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder element the strategies allegedly used to intimidate Scientology critics and hold distinguished members like Tom Cruise within the fold. Most jaw-dropping of all is the archival footage unearthed by Gibney, together with the music video “We Stand Tall” — so preposterous even Hubbard couldn’t have dreamed it up.

A woman with a tall blond updo gives an interview in a white blouse.

Remnant Fellowship and Weigh Down Workshop founder Gwen Shamblin in 2004.

(John Russell / Related Press)

“The Method Down: God, Greed and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin” (Max)

Director Marina Zenovich was almost accomplished with postproduction on a docuseries about Gwen Shamblin Lara when the spiritual chief and eating regimen guru died in a airplane crash en path to a MAGA rally in Florida in Might 2021. Identified for her slight body and gravity-defying hair, Lara was a educated dietitian who rose to prominence because the founding father of a controversial faith-based weight-loss program known as the Weigh Down Workshop and the chief of the Remnant Fellowship Church in Tennessee.

The primary three episodes of the collection look at Lara’s controversial weight-loss program, which taught that starvation may very well be overcome by being nearer to God, and the allegedly abusive practices inside her church. The ultimate two installments take a look at how her surprising dying threw her spiritual and wellness empire into upheaval.

"Krishnas: Gurus. Karma. Murder" on Peacock.

“Krishnas: Gurus. Karma. Homicide” on Peacock.


“Krishnas: Gurus. Karma. Homicide.” (Peacock)

This three-part collection explores a darkish chapter within the story of the Hare Krishnas — a motion related to hippies in orange robes handing out flowers on the airport. It explains how the group, formally often called the Worldwide Society for Krishna Consciousness, was based by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in 1966, and attracted younger Westerners focused on counterculture spirituality. Earlier than his dying in 1977, Prabhupada appointed a handful of gurus to take over the motion. Certainly one of his hand-picked successors was Kirtanananda Swami, previously often called Keith Ham, who dominated over New Vrindaban, a group in a distant nook of West Virginia. Kirtanananda pushed his followers to construct a palace of gold in what was as soon as a wilderness, but in addition impressed extra sinister habits — together with homicide, home violence and baby abuse.

Punk Squad marching with a Synanon banner

Punk Squad marching with a Synanon banner in “Born in Synanon,” streaming on Paramount+.”

(Bruce Levine / Paramount+)

“Born in Synanon” (Paramount+)

Synanon was based by Chuck Dederich within the Fifties as an unorthodox drug rehabilitation program whose members engaged in a apply often called “The Sport,” which concerned going through scathing criticism from their friends. Inside twenty years, it had morphed right into a violent, military-style cult with a cache of weapons whose members shaved their heads, wore uniforms and had been typically ordered by the group’s management to endure vasectomies or get divorced and take new companions. Directed by Geeta Gandbhir, this four-part documentary follows Cassidy Arkin, who was raised within the group, and her mom, Sandra Rogers-Hare, a former member, as they grapple with its legacy.


Supply hyperlink