Obsessed With The Vow? Then You'll Want to Check Out These Other Documentaries
If you haven't yet watched The Vow, what are you waiting for? HBO's new docuseries takes viewers inside the world of NXIVM, a sex cult and pyramid scheme that operated under the guise of a secretive self-help organization. Founded by Keith Raniere and Nancy Salzman in 1998, NXIVM first started as a multilevel marketing company that celebrated ideas of female self-empowerment — but, in reality, women in NXIVM were controlled, used, and punished. If you're fascinated by stories of extreme sects and their powerful leaders, then check out the gallery for 15 other true-crime documentaries and docuseries you'll want to watch after The Vow.
Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich
Though you probably know the crimes of the late financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, you may not be quite as familiar with the victims of those crimes. Based on James Patterson's bestseller Filthy Rich — which was cowritten by John Connolly with Tim Malloy — this four-part documentary tells the story of Epstein's rise to power and eventual fall, as well as the stories of the young women he recruited for his sex-trafficking operation.
Wild Wild Country
The six-part investigative series is truly wild, revolving around controversial Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and the community he built for his followers in Wasco County, OR. The story is told through interviews with past members of the notorious Rajneesh religious movement, as well as archival footage of the actual events, and just like with NXIVM, you can understand why so many people were drawn under the guru's influence.
This documentary was created by Will Allen, a man who spent 22 years as a member of the Buddhafield cult, which he joined in 1985 after his mother learned that he was gay and kicked him out of the house. Created using footage gathered by Allen as the group's official videographer — as well as new footage of the group in Hawaii and interviews with former members — Holy Hell truly provides a first-hand look at life within a cult.
Adapted from Sam Brower's Prophet's Prey: My Seven-Year Investigation into Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints, this documentary provides an in-depth look into the life and crimes of Warren Jeffs, the president of the FLDS Church, who is currently serving out a sentence of life plus 20 years in a Texas state prison. His crimes include the rape of several 12- to 13-year-old girls. Just like The Vow, this one will leave you feeling horrified.
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Based on Lawrence Wright's book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief, this documentary provides a condensed history of Scientology and its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, highlighting the stories of ex-members and their experiences within the church. As NXIVM blends together ideologies similar to Scientology, the self-help group EST, and Ayn Rand's objectivism, this one will help you better understand what Keith Raniere's cult.
Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator
Just as you'd never expect a marketing company that celebrates self-empowerment to be a sex cult, you'd never expect a yogi to be secret predator, but that is the alleged case with yoga guru Bikram Choudhury. This documentary revolves around the Speedo-clad Choudhury, founder of Bikram Yoga, and his dramatic fall from grace after allegations of rape and sexual assault came to light.
Inspired by Jeff Sharlet's book The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, this five-part docuseries revolves around a conservative Christian group known as the Family, telling the story of its history, its members, and its undeniable influence on American politics. If you think the world of politics is corrupt now, just wait until you watch this one.
Waco: The Rules of Engagement
This documentary tells the terrifying story of the 51-day 1993 Waco siege at the infamous Mount Carmel compound, where David Koresh, who claimed to be the final prophet of the Branch Davidians, took over as the sect's leader in the 1980s. The standoff ended in tragedy when an FBI assault on the compound led to the death of most of its inhabitants, demonstrating the dramatic turn that cult life can take.
Cults and Extreme Belief
Hosted by journalist Elizabeth Vargas, this nine-episode series examines how extreme sects prey upon directionless individuals and manage to alter their belief systems. The first episode in the series is all about NXIVM, while other episodes revolve around Jehovah's Witnesses, the Children of God church, and the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints, among other organizations.
This seven-part docuseries examines the unsolved murder of Cathy Cesnik, a Catholic high school teacher and nun in Baltimore who disappeared in 1969. The case was reopened in the '90s, when one of Cesnik's former students claimed that the high school's chaplain, A. Joseph Maskell — who was later found guilty of sexually abusing students — may have been involved. The Keepers isn't just about a murder — it's about a possible cover-up by the Catholic Church. And while this documentary doesn't revolve around a cult, it's just as haunting as The Vow.
One of Us
This devastating film follows three ex-Hasidic Jews from Brooklyn, NY, revealing how they came to leave their Hasidic communities and how they struggled to start a new life after leaving. One of Us delves into the three ex-members' experiences with religious doubt, as well as with both domestic abuse and childhood sexual abuse. Warning: this one isn't an easy watch.
Sons of Perdition
Just like Prophet's Prey, the documentary Sons of Perdition also revolves around Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints, telling the stories of teenage boys exiled from their families and community by Jeffs. Under the severe rule of Jeffs, hundreds of teens were dismissed from the FLDS Church for infractions such as wearing short-sleeved shirts, listening to music, or talking to girls. This documentary shows how life after a cult can be just as scary as life in a cult.
Jesus Camp revolves around the Kids on Fire School of Ministry, a since-closed charismatic Christian summer camp in North Dakota that was run by a Pentecostal children's pastor and her ministry, Kids in Ministry International. At the camp, children were taught that they had "prophetic gifts" and could "take back America for Christ," and while this film certainly doesn't reflect the views of all evangelical Christians, it definitely offers an eye-opening look at an extreme faction.
My Scientology Movie
Similar to Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, journalist Louis Theroux's My Scientology Movie concentrates on the Church of Scientology, but this one takes a slightly different approach. Because Theroux was denied admittance to the Church of Scientology's headquarters, he instead provides dramatic reconstructions of incidents within the church as witnessed by former senior church official Mark Rathbun and other ex-Scientologists. The result is as clever as it is shocking.
Life After Manson
You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn't heard of infamous Manson Family cult leader Charles Manson, but what about Patricia Krenwinkel? Life After Manson tells the story of how Krenwinkel went from a young girl thinking of becoming a nun to a convicted killer, all thanks to the destructive influence of Manson.