These Are the 15 Most Compelling Cult Documentaries and Docuseries Available to Stream Now

Not all true crime documentaries have to end (or start, really) in murder. Just a hop, skip and a jump away from the whodunnit genre is a smaller, though just as powerful subgenre all about dangerous cults and extreme religions. While the idea of a cult may seem far-fetched or even unthinkable to some, cults actually do exist. In fact, they are not a thing of the past; cults exist even now.

NXIVM is a prime example—as recently as 2018, India Oxenberg was still engulfed in the Keith Raniere-led cult before getting out. And believe it or not, people are still members of NXIVM today.

If you love true crime and psychological thrillers, keep reading for the 15 best cult documentaries—from NXIVM to The Family–most of which are streaming.

15 Best Cult Documentaries

1. The Vow

Currently, one of the best (and most popular!) cult docs is The Vow. Available to stream on HBO Max, the nine-episode docuseries is an in-depth exploration of Raniere's self-help-group-turned-sex-slave-cult, NXIVM. Told from the perspectives of some of the most high-profile ex-members of NXIVM, The Vow really dives into what the experience was like firsthand. And the first season did so well, they aired a second.

2. Heaven's Gate: The Cult of Cults

The "biggest cult story in the country," as it's so described in the trailer, is about a notorious UFO cult that tragically ended in mass suicide. The four-part docuseries explores how leaders Ti and Do brainwashed members of the extreme religious group known as Heaven's Gate into believing they could "chemically and biologically transform" into "next-level aliens." Ultimately, 39 members of the group's established 41 committed an act of mass ritual suicide in 1997. Featuring first-person accounts from those in and in proxy to Heaven's Gate, this HBO Max original is one you won't soon get out of your head.

3. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

Well, the title says it all, doesn't it?! Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief is a documentary based on the book by Pulitzer Prize-winner Lawrence Wright that delves deep into how Scientology recruits and shifts the thinking of its members. Featuring compelling interviews from eight ex-members of the Church of Scientology, Going Clear focuses on the power of belief and faith and how both can compel someone to do things they would never think of.

4. Sons of Perdition

This 2018 documentary from the Oprah Winfrey Network follows three teenage boys who escaped from The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. With a similar vibe to TLC's series Breaking AmishSons of Perdition is devastating, but it also promotes hope as these three young men struggle to find freedom and fit into life outside of a cult.

5. Jonestown: The Women Behind the Massacre

Another infamous cult that sadly ended in mass suicide was the Peoples Temple—known for the  Jonestown Massacre. The Guyana-based cult made international headlines when, on November 18, 1978, more than 900 people took their own lives at the direction of the cult's leader, Jim Jones. Available to buy on VUDU and Amazon Prime Video, the two-part documentary is so fascinating because of its interviews with four of the female victims who, at the time, helped carry out Jones' plan.

6. Wild Wild Country

Rajneeshpuram is a little-known extreme-religion community that began in the Oregon desert in the 1970s. Though the vision was to create a utopia of like-minded, kind people who believed in "free love"—as perpetuated by the cult's controversial leader, guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh—it ended in a mass poisoning. Wild Wild Country is a wild, wild must-watch that, with the help of the real people who lived it, takes a hard look at what happens when a cult and a nearby town reach a stalemate.

7. Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult

Ex-member and victim of Raniere's cult NXIVM India Oxenberg didn't participate in the acclaimed The Vow so that she could instead explain her story on her own terms. And it's docuseries gold, too. After spending seven years in NXIVM, Oxenberg enlists the help of her mother and other ex-members to detail the guilt, control and confusion involved in the cult experience. With hands-down the most detail about what it was really like to be inside and a member of NXIVM, Seduced isn't just compelling—it's explosive.

8. Children of God

1994's Children of God is named for the sex cult it seeks to unravel. This hour-long documentary depicts a Christian sect of religion gone wrong as told from the perspective of the Padilla family. With seven children born into the Children of God, the Padillas detail an inside look at what it was like to be involved before and after their leader, David Berg, went into unexplained hiding. Strangely, Berg used VHS tapes to communicate with his followers, telling them stunning prophecies like they shouldn't use contraception and women should seduce men, and even promoted child abuse.

9. The Family

The Family unlocks another level of cult-related insanity that most of us didn't know was possible. With LSD a heavy influence, Anne Hamilton-Byrne and Dr. Raynor Johnson started a doomsday cult, believing they needed to "collect" as many children as possible to save them from the impending end of the world. With drugs, abuse and brainwashing at the documentary's core, this one is definitely a must-watch but may be triggering, especially for parents.

10. Waco: The Rules of Engagement

In 2020, the Davidian cult became the talk-of-the-town once again when Paramount premiered Waco, an original series based on real events. If you binge-watched Waco or simply want to know more about what really happened, the 1997 documentary sheds a tragic, but necessary spotlight on the 51-day standoff between the Branch Davidian Church in Waco, Texas and the FBI that culminated in the death of 76 people.

11. Kumare

Frankly, Kumare is terrifying. Not because it's about a dangerous cult like the others on this list, but because it's about what it takes to make a cult. And the shocking truth of it all is a bitter pill to swallow. Filmmaker Vikram Gandhi documents a social experiment in which he poses as a yoga guru in an attempt to gain followers.

12. Q: Into the Storm

We're going there—we're calling Q-Anon a cult or at least, something very close to it with cult-like attributes. This HBO original docuseries takes an in-depth look at the bizarre origins of the conspiracy-driven forum Q-Anon. It's timely, relevant and entirely shocking, so you know, it's worth a watch.

13. Prophet's Prey

This Showtime documentary tells the story of Warren Jeffs, former president of The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and the crimes that ultimately led to his imprisonment. Riddled with extreme conservative beliefs, sexual assault, child abuse and forced polygamy, The FLDS Church preyed on women—young, underage women—so that one man, "The Prophet," AKA Jeffs could prey on the brainwashed. With countless twists and turns, Prophet's Prey is a documentary that unfolds like a thriller.

14. The Life and Death of Peoples Temple

Also about the Jonestown Massacre, The Life and Death of Peoples Temple is another fascinating take on what drove 908 people to not only join a cult, but to take their own lives in the name of that cult.

15. Holy Hell

Will Allen is a filmmaker who just so happened to join a cult after graduating from college. During his time in the New Age spiritual group called Buddhafield, Allen did what he knew how to do best: film. Upon leaving Buddhafield in 2007, Allen turned his footage from his time in the cult into a movie. Trust—there's nothing more compelling than a cult-doc told from the perspective of the brainwashed in the moment.

Next up, listen to the 30 best true crime podcasts.