The 14 Best Religious Cult Documentaries (Ranked)

When it comes to the criminal crazy of religious cults, things get curious and curiouser.

Though often with a side of tragedy that ain’t so amusing.

Now I ain’t no saint, but I try to live by the Golden Rule…which these self-appointed prophets apparently skipped right over in Bible study.

We’re talking god complexes big as megachurches, people! Followers treated like personal piggy banks and worse.

Here are the top religious cult documentaries I’ve found.

I’ve ranked them in order of how watchable they were.

Note: If you want to see a list of ALL cult documentaries, check out my The 29 Best Cult Documentaries ranking.

1) The Most Hated Family in America

“The Most Hated Family in America” (2007) is a compelling doc, delving into the Westboro Baptist Church.

This group (some would say “cult”) twists faith into something dark, right in the public eye.

Louis Theroux, the gutsy documentarian, asks the tough, often uncomfortable questions in this 60 minute hangout with an extreme family and church.

Westboro Baptist Church, led by Fred Phelps, is a family affair.

Their message? A contorted version of Christianity, brimming with God’s wrath, homophobia, xenophobia, and more.

A highlight?

Theroux’s intense, almost surreal exchange with Shirley Phelps-Roper.

The climax? Theroux challenging their beliefs.

Answers? Evasive at best.

But, still, non-answers often reveal more.

Fans of “Jesus Camp”? This is right up your alley.

The Phelps family’s mission is extreme Christianity, but on steroids.

One gap in the doc? The stories of those who left the church.

These defectors’ journeys would add another layer.

Watch it on BBC here https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b007clvf/louis-theroux-specials-the-most-hated-family-in-america

2) Crusaders: Ex Jehovah’s Witnesses Speak Out

Aaron Kaufman, taking a deep dive into his past, brought forth “Crusaders: Ex Jehovah’s Witnesses Speak Out,” a riveting piece that premiered in 2021 on Vice TV’s Vice Versa.

Are the Jehovah’s Witnesses all bad? Of course not.

We gotta show a little tenderness for the rank-and-file believers – even if their leaders steer them awry.

Most Witnesses just wanna live humble lives, pass out those Watchtowers, maybe take in a Wednesday Bible Study after washing the truck.

But, “Crusaders” does show the dark side of the group and signals of it’s cult-like behavior.

This is a hard-hitting exposé that uncovers the grim tales of child sexual abuse and pedophilia.

Jehovah’s Witnesses identify as a Christian-based millenarian restorationist religion. Members believe they must evangelize the “truths” found in the Bible (or their “Watchtower” magazine). This all revolves around teachings leadership claims are channeled from God to followers by a Governing Body in Brooklyn, NY.

Kaufman, once a follower himself, steps away from the faith to don the hats of producer and director, courageously shining a light on the harrowing stories.

Whistleblowers risk it all in this doc.

They release confidential documents in a bold crusade against the allegations of sexual abuse, child abuse and mind control.

Some users on YouTube commented on these themes:

  • Impact of Religious Beliefs on Family Relationships: Several users mention being estranged from their families due to Witnesses’ religious practices and beliefs ( “I haven’t seen or spoken to my parents or brother in 6 years.”)
  • Religion as a Cover for Abuse: Some comments point to the use of religious authority to hide or justify abuse, as indicated by “appalled by the fact the religion leaders looked for loopholes to keep from mandatory reporting.”
  • Personal Struggles with Religious Upbringing: Comments reflect the personal toll of being raised in this religious setting, as in “As a child who was trapped in this religion…till I could flee.”
  • Desire for Exposing and Educating about the Religion: There’s a strong sentiment for exposing the inner workings of the religion and educating the public, as seen in comments like “People need to know… Especially my family who are still in.”

“Crusaders” shares some tough-to-listen-to stories. Beware.

Watch Crusaders for free (with ads) on Tubi at https://tubitv.com/tv-shows/665889.

You can also watch it on these Internet/Cable providers here if you use them: https://www.vicetv.com/en_us/video/crusaders/60f82b9a4da46408cb4b3063

3) Unveiled: Surviving La Luz Del Mundo

Unveiled” is a deep dive into the controversial Christian church, La Luz Del Mundo, lasting a gripping 120 minutes.

The doc brings to light harrowing stories from survivors, shaken by the church’s hidden truths.

Naasón Joaquín García, known as “The Apostle,” once revered, is now revealed as the sinister leader of this cult.

The tale of one victim, 23-year-old Maria, is particularly heart-wrenching.

In 2020, the church’s dark secrets seemed unbelievable. “How could this go unnoticed?” many ask.

Reddit emerges as a pivotal platform where victims share their stories, seeking solidarity.

Members of the church, devoted in their Christian faith, are revealed to contribute a significant part of their income to the church – a staggering 10%.

It’s a shocking glimpse into how deep religious devotion can be exploited for financial gain.

What’s missing in the doc is a deeper exploration of Garcia’s formative years and influences.

Understanding these could provide insights into his rise and fall.

The court trials and testimonies are intense, shedding light on the church’s complex and disturbing dynamics.

I watched it on HBO Max at https://play.max.com/show/3d446f26-6f99-453f-a635-a1a41160c512.

4) Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults

In 1975, a peculiar meeting on the Oregon coast about UFOs leads to 20 people vanishing.

The leaders, claiming to be ancient extraterrestrial beings, mark the genesis of Heaven’s Gate — the largest mass suicide on U.S. soil.

The four-part docuseries, spanning 256 minutes, unveils Heaven’s Gate’s bizarre promise of space salvation.

The leaders, Do (age 65) and Ti (age 48), drive this narrative with their charismatic, albeit possibly deluded, personas.

Their doctrine culminates in the 1997 Nike-clad suicides in San Diego. Thirty-nine lives, extinguished.

The series’ standout? Insider testimonies — raw and revealing. Yet, it leaves one craving more on Ti’s background.

A missed opportunity for deeper psychological insights?

Dark, eye-opening, and at times oddly humorous, this docuseries is a cautionary tale about the perils of blind faith.

It’s a reminder to maintain a questioning spirit and steer clear of the metaphorical (or literal) Space-approved Kool-Aid.

You can watch it on HBO’s Max at https://play.max.com/show/83f1cb47-bce8-4e60-a9d3-9153e5d4c455 or on Spectrum (https://ondemand.spectrum.net/tv/cnn/19152572/heavens-gate-the-cult-of-cults/

5) Shiny, Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets

“Shiny, Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets,” delves deep into the Duggar family’s life, heavily influenced by their Christian beliefs.

In this [Number of Minutes]-minute doc, directed by [Director’s Name] in [Year], the intricate dynamics of faith and family unfold.

Jim Bob Duggar’s guiding light is Bill Gothard of IBLP, a Christian leader whose teachings shape the family’s core values.

Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute, a Christian homeschooling program with 54 “Wisdom Booklets,” becomes the educational cornerstone for the Duggar children.

The doc reveals the darker shades of this devout Christian life. Despite their long-term involvement in Discovery shows, the Duggar children’s labor remains largely uncompensated.

The Christian underpinnings extend to the IBLP’s financial support, with Hobby Lobby’s CEO as a key donor.

Gothard, preaching Christian family models without having a family of his own, faces multiple allegations, leading to his resignation.

Some view Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar as Gothard’s spiritual successors.

The film reaches a climax with Josh Duggar’s arrest for child pornography and Jim Bob’s controversial Senate run amid this scandal.

Josh’s conviction and 12.5-year sentence cast a long shadow over the family’s Christian witness.

Watch “Shiny, Happy People” on Prime Video on https://www.amazon.com/gp/video/detail/0N9S0XY724N8AILRA8Z2HAYH7T/.

For more options, check back in with https://www.justwatch.com/us/tv-show/shiny-happy-people-duggar-family-secrets to see if there are additional options)

6) Cults and Extreme Belief: Children of God

In “Children of God,” an episode from “Cults and Extreme Belief” that aired on June 5, 2018, Elizabeth Vargas leads a gripping 44-minute exploration into the notorious cult.

Amy Bril, a survivor, recounts her harrowing childhood within the group, infamous for pedophilia and religious prostitution.

But there’s more.

Bril and others raised in the cult are facing a daunting challenge: a suicide epidemic among their fellow survivors.

Vargas, with her insightful approach, takes us beyond mere facts.

She delves into the heart-wrenching personal stories, giving voice to those who suffered in silence.

It’s a deep dive into the disturbing realities of a cult that shattered lives.

This isn’t just storytelling; it’s a powerful, poignant narrative about resilience and the quest for healing among survivors.

Watch Cults and Extreme Belief on Prime Video or A&E, on Tubi (with ads) or buying it on Amazon, Vudu or Google Play. See all the options at https://www.justwatch.com/us/tv-show/cults-and-extreme-belief

7) Jesus Camp

“Jesus Camp” is a 99-minute dive into an Evangelical Christian summer camp.

Set in Devils Lake, North Dakota, the doc showcases kids praying to cardboard cutouts and being told Harry Potter books are evil.

These young minds are shaped by Becky Fischer, a children’s pastor with a drill sergeant’s zeal.

The doc’s heart? The intense indoctrination of these kids into God’s army.

It’s an unsettling sight.

Did you enjoy”The Most Hated Family in America”?

“Jesus Camp” is in your wheelhouse.

The scene with kids crying, begging for redemption, is particularly haunting.

Becky’s words, “The Devil goes to church too,” linger long after. It’s a doc that makes you ponder.

With 25% of the US population identifying as Evangelical, the film offers a crucial perspective.

What’s missing? The aftermath. The kids’ lives post-camp. An epilogue or sequel would add depth.

For fans of controversial religious docs, it’s a must-watch. But if you’re sensitive about religion, it might be a tough watch.

Watch it for free on Kanopy (requires your library card) at https://www.kanopy.com/fr/product/93733; on Amazon’s Prime Video at https://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Camp-Becky-Fischer/dp/B001AMRHNU; or on Hulu at https://www.hulu.com/movie/jesus-camp-85b6180d-1df3-4e70-af22-f1087f650210.

Check out https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/jesus-camp for the latest streaming options.

8) Keep Sweet Pray and Obey

Director Rachel Dretzin serves up a 117-minute peek behind the petunia-print curtains of an honest-to-goodness all-American religious cult.

She spills the tea on Warren Jeffs, the nerve-rattling leader of the oddball FLDS gang.

I give Keep Sweet the edge over Prophets Prey and other Jeffs docs because it’s more in depth (282 minutes over 4 parts!).

He somehow had thousands of sheeple hooked on his every word like he was the Pied Piper of Polygamy.

This high-stepping nephew wields wild power after his stroke-stricken uncle kicks the bucket, becoming the big enchilada.

And he marries a fleet of his dad’s grieving widows—even his own ma!—while crowning himself mouthpiece of God.

But Jeffs is more fizzle than sizzle, skipping town to set up an armed encampment in the Texan desert when the fuzz close in on his underage antics.

Turns out this “prophet” is just a two-bit hustler with a penchant for playing house with teenagers while his believers bankroll his All-American road trips (including Disney Land).

Dretzin reveals the closet skeletons without needing any sensationalism, disseminating the dirt on Warren with an ace reporter’s cool candor.

A powder keg of prevarication and corruption masquerading as revelation that’ll leave even seen-it-alls shocked.

It’s on Netflix at https://www.netflix.com/title/81292539.

9) The Way Down: God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin

“The Way Down” — got 300 minutes? This docuseries, directed by [Director’s Name] and released in [Year], is your deep dive into Gwen Shamblin Lara’s world.

She’s the brain behind the Weigh Down Workshop and The Remnant Fellowship Christian group. Five episodes of twists and turns.

Think Gwen’s just a diet guru turned church leader? Hold up, there’s more. Fans of “Wild Wild Country” — you’re in for a treat.

Gwen’s pitch is a mix of starvation and salvation, all wrapped in a Christian bow. One scene has her going off about weight.

It’s not just unsettling, it’s a glimpse into a world where faith meets fanaticism.

Her transformation? Platinum hair, gaunt look. It’s like watching a visual sermon on the dangers of mixing money, manipulation, and religion.

“God wants you slim?” That’s her line. But it’s more about control than Christianity.

Did people buy this? Yep, they did.

The doc had one thing missing: the kids’ stories.

Growing up in that world? That’s a story needing telling.

Bottom line: “The Way Down” isn’t just about diets. It’s about power, control, and how cult-like charisma can turn spirituality sideways.

Gwen’s story? It’s a wild ride.

My advice: Stay sharp, stay curious. And don’t just swallow everything you’re fed — even if it’s packaged as divine dieting wisdom.

10) Ministry of Evil: The Twisted Cult of Tony Alamo

Director Amy Berg unspools the whole sordid story of Bernie “Tony Alamo” Hoffman.

Tony is the bedazzled Arkansas evangelist who somehow launched a sky-high denim cult empire from his Jewish roots that would leave even Jesus whistling Dixie!

I’m talking armed guards on every corner, child brides galore, and enough warnings about Satan’s sex-crazed temptresses to make Sodom and Gomorrah blush!

It all started back in ’69 when Bernie went full Apostle Paul after finding God.

He then teamed up with his beehived bride Susan to form the Alamo Christian Foundation (for all those Hollywood heathens(.

Well let’s just say their methods of “saving” souls were about as kosher as a ham sandwich at a bar mitzvah!

We’re talking young disciples dragging strangers from LA streets to their far-flung commune for some saline and salvation from Reverend Showboat Tony.

Over 102 gut-wrenching minutes, Berg spotlights the suffocating grip of fear and faith Tony used to build his empire.

From behind those dark shades, Tony twisted scripture faster than a Texas tornado to make his every word sacrosanct while reducing followers to terrified servants.

You’ll never view organized religion the same again after this rollercoaster of cringe!

Now who wants to join me in dunking Tony’s glittery jackets in the River Jordan? Can I get an Amen?!

Watch it on Amazon’s Prime Video at https://www.amazon.com/Ministry-Evil-Twisted-Cult-Alamo/dp/B07NKBXFK8;

It’s also on Sundance Now (https://www.sundancenow.com/series/watch/ministry-of-evil-the-twisted-cult-of-tony-alamo/b533c2dd51c8f5fc?season=1).

Other options are here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/tv-show/ministry-of-evil-the-twisted-cult-of-tony-alamo

11) Pray, Obey, Kill

“Pray, Obey, Kill” – now this doc will give you chills. It’s a deep dive into Sweden’s Helge Fossmo case, where Scandi-noir meets the gritty reality of true crime.

Picture this: A pastor claiming to get messages from God, leading to murders.

Sounds like fiction, but it’s shockingly real. Fossmo, this charismatic pastor, doesn’t just preach – he brainwashes, seduces.

His accomplice, Sara Svensson, 29, wrapped up in this tech-driven manipulation. The case got tagged “SMS Murder.”

Talk about creepy 21st-century crime.

The standout moment? Svensson’s eerie interrogation. She spills the beans on the hits, and it’s spine-tingling.

The thrill here? Watching investigators piece together this bizarre puzzle. It’s like watching a detective novel come to life.

And it hits you – “Can people really be this gullible?” In the face of religious authority, sadly, the answer’s yes.

This doc nails it – showing the dark underbelly of society, how easily swayed we can be, especially when religion’s in the mix.

What’s missing? A deeper look into the church community. Their mindset, their beliefs – that’s a story untold.

“Pray, Obey, Kill” is a solid story of a small town rocked by a scandal that blends faith, power, and crime.

I watched “Pray, Obey, Kill” on HBO’s Max but it’s no longer on there. Ping me if you know a new place to watch it and I’ll add the link here — thanks!

12) Waco: The Rules of Engagement

If you’re delving into the 1993 Waco siege, “Waco: Rules of Engagement” is my top Waco pick.

This 97-minute doc from 1997 is not just about a standoff; it’s a deep dive into a clash between government forces and a Christian sect gone awry.

Director Gazecki dissects how the ATF botched their raid (seriously, what were they thinking?) against David Koresh’s Branch Davidians.

Koresh, with his distorted Christian doctrines, had turned his compound into a fortress of faith and defiance.

As the FBI steps in, hoping to resolve the crisis, things spiral further out of control. The doc captures the stark contrast between the FBI’s supposed prowess and the grim reality.

Gazecki’s interviews with surviving Davidians, who witnessed the tragedy from an underground shelter, are harrowing.

The footage of the siege, where beliefs and bullets met tragically, is chilling.

This doc is a rollercoaster ride through a tragic chapter of American history where Christian zealotry met governmental blunders.

Maybe save it for daytime viewing, unless you’re up for some intense, doomsdayt-disturbing reflections on faith and folly.

You can watch it free on YouTube at https://youtu.be/VlN0kYoPHIU or on Kanopy (with library card) at https://www.kanopy.com/en/product/174222

13) Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple

“Jonestown: The Life and Death of People’s Temple,” a PBS doc by Stanley Nelson, delves into the chilling tale of the Jonestown massacre with rare footage and firsthand accounts.

Comparable to “Jonestown: Terror in the Jungle,” but with its unique edge, it’s an 86-minute journey into the world of Jim Jones, a man who twisted Christian ideals into a harrowing narrative. If “Waco: The Rules of Engagement” shook you, this one digs even deeper.

Jones’ charisma was a dark spin on spiritual leadership, a chilling reminder of how twisted faith can lead to tragedy. The hard-hitting facts: over 900 lives lost in 1978, Guyana, victims of a mass suicide shaped by a perverse interpretation of Christianity.

This doc doesn’t just recount history; it’s a stark warning. “Blind faith leads to blind alleys.” That’s the takeaway. Keep vigilant, especially in matters of faith.

The climax is a heart-wrenching depiction of the Kool-Aid scene, a moment that questions the vulnerability of belief.

Wishing for more on Jones’ early life and his journey into religious leadership, I’m left pondering, “What if?”

A reminder rings clear: always question, especially when faith is at play.

Watch it for free on YouTube at https://youtu.be/tuxdb1pSVe8.

14) Manson

Picture of Charles Manson for Best Cult Documentaries article
Charles Manson in a 1968 mug shot from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

“Manson” takes you on a wild, 83-minute journey into Charles Manson’s eerie universe and his notorious “Family”.

This 1973 doc dissects the twisted minds and chilling terror spree of this infamous cult.

While “Manson” doesn’t focus deeply on religion, there is a clear connection to Christianity.

Manson borrowed ideas from the Process Church of the Final Judgment.

They believed in a grand finale where Satan and Jesus team up for humanity’s ultimate verdict (source).

Manson’s pitch to his “Family” disciples was they were the reincarnated original Christians, and the establishment.

Some scenes will likely unsettle you. Captain Obvious, I know.

Watch “Manson” for free on YouTube at https://youtu.be/M0-v8UGAMHw

Thanks for reading!

Rob Kelly, Chief Maniac of Daily Doc