The Best Depictions of Cults in Film and Television 

best cult movies

Tonight, the Paramount Network premieres the first installment in a six-part miniseries about real-life cult leader David Koresh and the tragic siege of his compound in Waco, Texas. Waco stars Taylor Kitsch as Koresh and Michael Shannon as FBI agent Gary Noesner, and will dig into the complexities of Koresh’s spiritual sect, the Branch Davidians, including their strange living conditions, and their leader’s penchant for marrying and sleeping with preteen girls. It’s the second fictional portrayal of Koresh in the last few months: Evan Peters’ also briefly tackled the part in an episode of American Horror Story: Cult late last year.

Koresh is having his day in the sun, but public fascination with cults and cult leaders is nothing new. There’s something inherently compelling and cinematic about the mass mania that permits these institutions. It’s a goldmine of character development and analytics, of drama and personal spectacle; a way of lifting the hood on human psychology and playing with the gears.

As cults rage on as potent storytelling devices, we’ve compiled a list of the best-ever depictions of cults and cult mentality in narrative film, documentaries, and television.

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Waco trailer

Growing up in the ‘90s, the standoff between David Koresh and the Branch Davidians and the ATF was a shocking event to learn about from a distance. The consistent story was that Koresh was a cult leader who led his flock in a battle against police that concluded in fiery death for most of his followers.

The miniseries Waco tells a different story. It is honest that Koresh (Taylor Kitsch) was a polygamist, a lifestyle that wife Rachel (Melissa Benoist) supported. But they were fixtures of the Waco community, playing dive bars and giving a home to strays. It was the ATF who fired on them, and left negotiator Gary Noesner (Michael Shannon) to salvage the standoff.

Directing duo Drew and John Erick Dowdle produced, directed and co-wrote the miniseries Waco. /Film spoke with them about this new perspective on a misunderstood event in recent history. Waco premieres on The Paramount Network on Wednesday, January 24.

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Waco trailer

In 1993, a standoff at the compound of the Branch Davidians religious sect in Waco, Texas made headlines when the FBI, ATF, and the members of David Koresh’s group collided with fatal results. Now the events leading up to that fateful standoff are receiving the dramatic treatment with Waco, a star-studded 6-part miniseries event for the newly-renamed Paramount Network.

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waco first look

On April 19, 1993, nearly 80 people were killed in a standoff between the federal government and the Branch Davidians religious sect after the group’s compound burned down. At the center of it all: David Koresh, the leader of the Branch Davidians and a self-proclaimed prophet. Koresh was facing allegations of child abuse and illegal arms stockpiling and barricaded himself in the compound when agents came with a warrant for his arrest. Thus began a 51-day standoff known as the Waco siege that still draws polarizing reactions from Americans today.

With former heartthrob Taylor Kitsch taking on the role of Koresh, those polarizing reactions are sure to continue through Paramount Network’s Waco miniseries, which just unveiled its first trailer for the six-part show.

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Waco movie - Jaume Collet-Serra

Jaume Collet-Serra, the Spanish filmmaker at the helm of movies like Orphan, Unknown, Non-Stop, and The Shallows, appears to have graduated from B-movie genre efforts to a potentially A-list prestige film. Annapurna Pictures has hired him to direct Waco, a movie about the 1993 Texas conflict that raged between the FBI and a right-wing cult group and resulted in a body count of more than 75 people.
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waco-casting

If we hadn’t just had word of the possible Benicio Del Toro / Cameron Diaz romantic comedy pairing, the cast currently attached to star in Rupert Wainwright‘s film Waco might seem like one of the strangest casting collections of the day: Kurt Russell, Adrien Brody and Sharon Stone are potentially teaming to recreate the ATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco that was led by David Koresh. The siege and actions that led to it cost the lives of 82 residents of the compound and 4 federal agents. Read More »