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The Best Documentaries For All You Cult-Obsessed Girlies

A fun fact that I like to mention at least once an article is that I have a degree in psychology. And for once, it’s actually relevant to the subject on-hand. As this psychology degree combined with my general mental instability means that I am absolutely fascinated by cults. I focused a lot of my studies on group behavior and more than once it was suggested that I was researching for my own future cult (wanna join?).

My psychology degree doesn’t get used much anymore, except for when I’m psychoanalyzing whatever trashbag my friend is currently dating. But I still love reading and watching everything related to cults. It’s a morbid fascination but one that I can’t quite shake.

So today I’ll use all of these streaming hours to provide you with a Betchy ranking of the best cult documentaries (not to be confused with the best cults, as all cults are bad!!!). 

10. The Way Down: God, Greed and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin (2021)


Starting us off is The Way Down, which is a classic HBO documentary. It follows Gwen Shamblin, who created a massive cult out of a Christian diet program. The entire premise of this cult is what makes it so intriguing. Like you get sex cults, you get religious cults, but weight loss cults? And it isn’t keto or veganism? Fascinating.

Honestly, praying the calories away isn’t the worst thing I’ve heard, but how she got from there to child abuse is sickening

This documentary leaned a little too heavily on ex-member’s gossip rather than archive footage, which put it lower on the list. But it still deserves a spot on our top ten, as you don’t get many cults with female leaders. Ariana said “God is a woman,” and maybe she was right, as it would take a divine miracle to get as much volume in your hair as Gwen Shamblin.

9. Prophet’s Pray (2015)


There are a few different documentaries on The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (really needs a nickname, the Fundas?), but I think Prophet’s Pray is the best one. This is a more ‘traditional’ cult story, but a horrifying one at that. It’s riddled with extreme conservative beliefs, sexual assault, child abuse and forced polygamy. 

This documentary almost resembles a thriller at moments, and really builds the tension. Don’t worry, there’s a bit of a happy ending when the creep leader Warren Jeffs is arrested!!

8. The Deep End (2022)

Okay, The Deep End earns its spot on the list because of how rare it is for the cult leader to actually be interviewed for a documentary. Teal Swan seems like your typical Millennial spiritual girlie with a huge social media following, but she is far more dangerous than that. 

This documentary really explores the dangers of influencer culture if left unchecked, and how unregulated spiritual practices are. She is worse than the girlies who go to yoga at 8 am on a Sunday with no caffeine, trust me. 

But the documentary ranks low on the list as there are a lot of claims of mis-editing, and I don’t know if they were critical enough on Teal (is that her legit name??). Girlie’s smug smile also gets very tiring. 

7. Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults (2020)

Most cults tend to have a sexual aspect somewhere along the way, so a cult that has no sex is fascinating (especially as, unlike me, it’s an active choice). Heaven’s Gate actively discouraged any sexual activity and believed everyone should transform themselves into sexless, genderless aliens. Kind of how you feel when you sit in front of the mirror at the hair salon with your wet, rat-like hair.

This documentary has a tragic end, with the group committing mass suicide in 1997, and you feel the tension building as it leads to that. The footage of the leaders, “Ti” and “Do,” is interesting, but it also lacks the psychological depth of other documentaries on this list.

6. Kumaré (2011)

Okay this is a lil controversial (as opposed to all the NON-controversial cult documentaries on this list) but it is SO INTERESTING. This documentary differs as it’s not a real cult, but rather the filmmaker Vikram Gandhi shows us how easy it is to create a cult.

He calls himself Sri Kumaré, a yogi hailing from a fictional region of India, and travels to Arizona in an attempt to grow and develop a cult of followers. It also really explores how we almost fetishize Eastern practices.

A lot of criticism is directed at the deception involved in this, but many psychological experiments require such deception, and I think the findings are worth it. But watch for yourself and see what you think!

5. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015)

I have been fascinated by Scientology ever since Tom Cruise was revealed to be one way back in the day, so it’s no surprise that this documentary makes the list.

It actually explains Scientology in easier-to-understand terms, including how it was founded, and looks at how celebrities interact with it. Literally, doesn’t it feel like every other celeb is a Scientologist or in that women-hating Hollywood church? Not gonna dish names as I’d rather not be sued or have a voodoo doll made in my image. Ouchie

But the real interest in this documentary is how much it pissed off the Church of Scientology. They went feral and kept denouncing it, trying to ensure it wasn’t considered for any big awards. Like why kick up such a fuss if you have nothing to hide? Also, it loses points for not getting Tom Cruise or John Travolta to agree to an interview.

4. Q: Into the Storm (2021)

Okay, this might be the most relevant and dangerous cult documentary on this list. This is internet culture summed up. The radicalization of individuals all from the comfort of their homes. This HBO documentary takes such a different approach, as it’s not even considered by all to be a cult, but it becomes far more than a whodunit investigation as to who “Q” actually is.

The series also discusses 8chan and the various movements that have found a home there, including Pizzagate, Gamergate, and QAnon. Plus the filmmaker literally follows the subject to storm the capital on January 6th. I wish I was joking.

Given the current political climate, I really recommend watching Q: Into the Storm and then curling up into a ball to panic cry.

3. Holy Hell (2016)

This documentary is truly like any other I’ve seen, and I think that partly comes from how personal it is. It’s directed by Will Allen, a former member of the Buddhafield cult who documented his time in the group. We get to see his raw footage and hear him describe it all. Also since he is besties with the rest, the interviews are far more detailed and personal.

With a lot of cult leaders, I’m kind of surprised to hear that so many follow them. But with Jaime Gomez, I get it, I really do. This is such a typical California cult vibe, and yet so captivating and beautifully made. 

After watching it, I want nothing more to go swimming in wild lakes and prancing through the forest, but I’m just a simple Starbies girl at heart.

2. The Vow NXVIM (2020)

A pyramid scheme, a sex-trafficking operation, a cult… NXVIM wears many terrible hats, and this HBO documentary does an incredible job of covering them all. This nine-part series is LONG but it allows them to explore everything in a lot of detail, and it’s so well-produced that the time flies by. There was so much real footage and phone calls used, which makes it far more chilling.

This cult documentary really stands out for how it helps you to understand the victims. They’re not painted as fools or naive, but rather it plays on that need to belong. Like I kind of get it?? 

Also the involvement of Allison Mack from Smallville? The woman was LITERALLY TOO STUNNED TO SPEAK!!

A must-watch, but quite a harrowing tale! There’s also a kind of season two but it’s less compelling to be honest.

1. Escaping Twin Flames (2023)

I thought I had seen my fair share of crazy cult documentaries, but I was not prepared for the absurdity of Escaping Twin Flames. It explores a cult run by Shaleia and Jeff Divine called the Twin Flames Universe. It promises to help people find their Twin Flame, aka their soulmate, their lobster, their big spoon. Sounds harmless? Kind of like matchmaking, right? Right?!?


So this cult actively promotes stalking and harassment. It forces people to be together who have no interest in one another. It convinces people that they’re the wrong gender and have to transition?! It says that a man is always entitled to sex from his Twin Flame. It also comes with a whole diet plan of essentially carb loading? The list goes on and on. 

This documentary is really set apart by the strange tension between the two leaders, with Shaleia subservient to Jeff and growing more and more withdrawn. 

I especially appreciated the scenes where Keely confronts her own role in it and apologizes to another member. 

Also the inclusion of Dr. Cassius Adair — a professor at The New School and author of The Transgender Internet, was vital in showing how different the forced transitions are to transgender people, so that watchers don’t mistake the two.

Also what is up with the unborn child messiah???

Fleurine Tideman
Fleurine Tideman
Fleurine Tideman, a European-based copywriter. She’s interesting (cause she’s from Europe), speaks multiple languages (again, she's from Europe), and is mentally unhinged (despite socialized healthcare). You can find her European musings on Twitter @ByFleurine and her blog, Symptoms of Living, both of which are written to the sounds of unhinged Taylor Swift playlists.