Calling a social group a “cult” in a contemporary context means you aren’t speaking of them in the most positive light. Decades of tabloid news causes us to associate the word with worst-case scenarios, from the Manson Family to the Peoples Temple. Generally, belonging to a “cult” nowadays is a no-no and, for the most part, ends badly. In fiction, however, small groups of people living together and worshiping a person or deity not from one of the major religions can make for great — and even sometimes lighthearted — entertainment. We’ve rounded up some of the best examples.
The Wyatt Family
Now that there’s no more Breaking Bad, Cedric Muhammad at Forbes suggests that your “must-see TV” isn’t another new AMC drama; it’s the Wyatt Family of the WWE. And disagreeing with him is tough, because the weird backwoods cult gimmick, transfixing promo videos, and leader Bray Wyatt’s sermons truly make them one of the most interesting (and super-spooky) things on television.
The New Evolution
Season 5 of Beverly Hills, 90210 was sort of a bummer: Dylan got deeper into the hard stuff, and Kelly went to a rave and suffered bad burns. But the weirdest thing to happen was the latter character’s involvement in the cult led by Dr. Patrick Finley.
The Creedish Church
Chuck Palahniuk writing about a death cult in Survivor is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. This is one of those books that (even more than many of the author’s other novels) people get obsessed over in — dare we say? — a very cultish way.
The kids from Children of the Corn
One of the few instances when a movie adaptation of a Stephen King story manages to be creepier than the source material. These freaky young pagans still give us nightmares.
Cult of Asherah
Remember that time that ancient cult spread a meta-virus through prostitutes and breast milk in Neal Stephenson’s cyberpunk classic, Snow Crash? Yeah, that was awkward.
Lot’s of weird stuff went down during Big Love’s run, but the most believable part of the show was that a whole lot of people would worship Harry Dean Stanton as a prophet.
Paul Thomas Anderson (perhaps wisely) never confirmed that The Master was based on the Church of Scientology, so technically The Cause, headed by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is fictional.
H.P. Lovecraft created more than a few cults in the Cthulhu Mythos. Thankfully we have sites like Wikipedia to keep track of them all.
The citizens of Summerisle
Pro tip: if you ever get stuck on a remote Scottish island and the locals start acting like they did in The Wicker Man (the original one, not the Nicolas Cage remake), you should probably jump back in the water and just swim away.
The Eyes Wide Shut sex cult
You should really only go to these parties filled with masks, robes, rich dudes, and naked women if you’re a member of the cult that throws them. Otherwise, things get incredibly awkward.