12 Good Thriller Films About Dangerous Cults

Cults are equally fascinating and terrifying for many people, so it’s no wonder they are one of the most explored phenomena in our media. But what are some of the best? That’s what one film fan looking for movies about cults wants to know. Their fellow film fans on the forum where they ask are more than happy to point them toward some of the best movies about cults. 

1. Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

Image Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Martha Marcy May Marlene stars a pre-Marvel Cinematic Universe Elizabeth Olsen as a young woman who has escaped a cult but is extremely paranoid about them finding her and forcing her to return. The film shows us both her time after escaping, when she attempts to reintegrate into normal life at her older sister’s house, and how she first became involved in the cult before realizing it wasn’t a place she wanted to stay. 

2. Faults (2014)

Mary Elizabeth Winstead Beth Grant Faults
Image Credit: Screen Media Films

Multiple movie lovers recommend Faults as one of the more underappreciated films about cults that deserves more attention. The film centers on a cult expert who is recruited by the desperate parents of a young woman who has become involved with a cult, but things aren’t as simple as they appear. 

3. Children of the Corn (1984)

children of the corn
Courtesy of New World Pictures

One of the quintessential Stephen King movie adaptations of the 1980s, Children of the Corn, tells the story of a town where a group of children have formed a cult. Their cult is committed to killing all adults who ever set foot in their town, and a young couple just stopped in while passing through.  

4. Split Image (1982)

Split Image 1982
Image Credit: Orion Pictures

Split Image tells the story of a wealthy college athlete with a great life who becomes involved in a cult and his parents’ desperate attempts to free him from that cult. Without spoiling too much, I’ll say there’s at least one kidnapping in the film in which the kidnappers believe they’re doing what’s best for the young man. 

5. Ticket to Heaven (1981)

Ticket to Heaven 1981
Image Credit: United Artists

Ticket to Heaven is another film about a young man drawn into a cult before his parents attempt to get him out. But unlike Split Image, the film is based on a true story and takes time to detail the psychological breakdown of the youth by the cult. It’s a troubling but fascinating film. 

6. Sound of My Voice (2011)

Brit Marling in Sound of My Voice
Image Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Sound of My Voice centers on a documentarian couple working on a film about a cult, but to make their film, they have to embed themselves within the cult. That setup is enough to make for an exciting movie, but things get even more interesting when the cult leader claims to be from the future. 

7. The Master (2012)

Image Credit: The Weinstein Company

Inspired by L. Ron Hubbard and the birth of Scientology, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master explores the relationship between a World War II veteran and the founder of a new religious movement called “The Cause.” The movie takes several twists and turns, but what makes it so watchable are the incredible performances of Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the veteran and religious leader. 

8. The Invitation (2015)

Logan Marshall Green in The Invitation 2015
Image Credit: Drafthouse Films

Going to a dinner party at the home of your ex-wife and the mother of your deceased child is anxiety-inducing as it is. But when she, her new boyfriend, and their very imposing friend tell you about a new group they’ve joined that they want you to join, you’ve found yourself in The Invitation.

The small-scale thriller from director Karyn Kusama makes the most of its single location, wringing every ounce of tension from the home in the Hollywood Hills where the dinner party takes place. 

9. Society (1989)

Society 1989
Image Credit: Wild Street Pictures

Few movies can claim to be cult, body horror, comedies, but Society seamlessly weaves together disparate tones to deliver something wonderfully unique. The film follows a young man who begins to suspect that he’s not the same as his wealthy family, not just that he’s different from them as a person, but that they might not be people.

As he investigates, he discovers a whole world of not-quite-human beings who belong to the upper classes, and the film climaxes in one of their bizarre rituals. 

10. Under the Silver Lake (2019)

Under the Silver Lake 1
Photo Credit: A24

A warning that Under the Silver Lake doesn’t offer any firm answers to its protagonist or viewers, but it’s still one of the most fascinating and hilarious explorations of conspiracy theories and cults in modern film.

The movie follows unemployed Sam (Andrew Garfield) as he investigates the disappearance of his beautiful neighbor, only to discover that she was involved with a strange and powerful organization. But he can’t quite figure out what that organization is or wants. 

11. The Endless (2017)

The Endless
Photo Credit: Well Go USA Entertainment.

Writing/Direction duo Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson have made some of the most interesting small-scale science fiction films of the 21st century, and The Endless is their best. It also happens to be about a cult, one that brothers Aaron and Justin (the filmmakers play the characters with their names) left years ago.

When the brothers receive a videotape from the cult, they go back to investigate what the members mean by “ascension.” But things take a mind-bending turn when the brothers discover that time doesn’t work normally around the cult. 

12. Lord of Illusions (1995)

Lord of Illusions 1995
Image Credit: United Artists

Written and directed by horror legend Clive Barker, Lord of Illusions centers on occult detective Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula) as he becomes entangled in a cult’s plan to resurrect their dead leader. It’s a wild ride of a movie that takes stage magic seriously (an illusionist is a central figure) and is unlike anything else, on this list or otherwise. 

This thread inspired this post. 

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Kyle Logan is a film and television critic and general pop culture writer who has written for Alternative Press, Cultured Vultures, Film Stories, Looper, and more. Kyle is particularly interested in horror and animation, as well as genre films written and directed by queer people and women. Along with writing, Kyle organizes a Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd.