Pop Culture Characters Who Would Make Persuasive Cult Leaders

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An amateur investigative journalist and his girlfriend infiltrate a group led by an enigmatic woman who claims she hails from the future and will keep those who follow her safe from harm. Initially intent on exposing the woman as a fraud, the couple becomes more deeply immersed in the strange, new world. Zal Batmanglij’s Sound of My Voice — co-written with lead star Brit Marling, who plays the mysterious cult figure — opens in theaters today.

Creepy — and often hilarious — depictions of covert organizations and new religious groups have abounded in pop culture. There are a few figures, however, which haven’t amassed their own cult, but could easily attract legions of followers by sheer personality alone. We examined several pop culture characters that would make persuasive cult leaders below. Chime in with your picks in the comments section.

The Dude

Spouting peace, love, and marijuana (perhaps for compliancy), The Dude’s messianic-casual looks make him a prime candidate for cultdom. He’s already gathered a real-life following, which speaks to his influence — or his ability to spike the White Russians you’ve been sipping with “special” Kool-Aid. The beloved Big Lebowski character also has a built-in mantra (“The Dude abides.”), which is central to any cult leader’s mind control abilities. The Dude promises that all of life’s stresses can be forgotten by going bowling. It’s no sheer coincidence that alley is like a temple.

The Man from Another Place

Twin Peaks’ Man from Another Place could easily hypnotize his followers into submission with the dreamlike Red Room’s strobe light effects, his backwards chatter, and the Garmonbozia’s secret ingredient. The Man can frequently be found dancing, which would be the perfect way to help induce a trance-like state and make people more open to conversion. Drawing everyone in with his esoteric declarations, the Black Lodge is indeed a seductive gateway to another place — and The Man’s name alone is fitting of the finest cult leader imaginable.

Don Draper

He’s the strong, silent type, making him more of a riddle just begging to be figured out — but not really. He’s just using that to his advantage when it suits him. Don Draper the cult leader isn’t much different than Don Draper the ad man. No matter how poorly he treats those around him, they keep coming back for more. You can credit his persuasive personality to his advertising and sales background, but the enigmatic Don was a born manipulator. In fact, that’s how he got his job in the first place. Booze, casual sex, and slogans that charm are sure to make you a member for life. Bonus cult points for Don’s secret identity.

Travis Bickle

People can relate to a guy like Travis Bickle. He’s an every Joe just trying to make it in the big city, working hard, and feeling disgruntled with the world around him. That’s how he sucks you in, anyway. Soon enough, his paranoid vigilante fantasies and obsession with saving people (12-year-old prostitutes, at least) takes over, carrying you along for the ride. He preaches about having a strong body to fight the good fight and convinces you to shave your head. Travis is a passionate guy whose bizarre theories eventually start to make sense. Before you know it, you find yourself hanging around presidential candidates in public waiting for the right moment to pounce.

Darth Vader

Telepathic powers? An oddly mesmerizing voice? Constant talk about your destiny being with the dark side of The Force and ruling the Empire together? Need we say more?

Sarah Connor

It took Terminator’s Sarah Connor a decade to find the strength to stand up to the cyborg assassins trying to take over the world, but her robot ramblings eventually get her locked up in an insane asylum. Her obsession with “Judgment Day” and the lethal, self-aware artificial intelligence Skynet makes her seem totally unhinged. No one believes her paranoid rantings about killer machines, but it’s easy to imagine a cult forming around Sarah given she’s actually telling the truth and can convincingly back up her outlandish statements with seemingly concrete ideas.

Jules Winnfield

Pulp Fiction’s Jules Winnfield is a cult leader waiting to happen. The contract killer employed by mob kingpin Marsellus Wallace is a “bad mother fucker” who quotes scripture before killing people. Later in the film, he gets mystical talking about “walking the earth.” In fact, we’re pretty sure after the movie ended he started a commune in the middle of nowhere, teaching his followers how to handcraft wallets.

Gordon Gekko

If there were ever a candidate to lead a self-help cult, Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko would be it. We could totally see the antagonist who taught audiences that “greed is good” targeting innocent, vulnerable people to drain their bank accounts. The corporate raider already uses his illegal schemes against fellow businessmen, so what’s stopping him from setting sights on you? Gekko’s smarmy ways will stealthily bankrupt your checking account and your soul.

Lisbeth Salander

You’d think that an antisocial hacker who would prefer the company of computers over people would make a terrible cult leader, but The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s Lisbeth Salander would excel at the gig. Intelligent, possessing a photographic memory, skilled at being a complete chameleon, and being the uberest of all uber hackers makes her incredibly qualified. Salander would be like an all-seeing eye, controlling her followers across the globe through a computer screen — and secretly venturing to faraway places to kick their ass into shape when they least expect it.

Tyler Durden

Violent anti-materialist and anti-corporate fight club leader Tyler Durden doesn’t need sly tactics to convince you to join his cult. He puts it all out on the line with cocky and impassioned speeches like this:

“All the ways you wish you could be, that’s me. I look like you wanna look, I fuck like you wanna fuck, I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not.”

The line starts to the left.