Ah, cult leaders. So evil. So persuasive. Such great fodder for movie and TV characters! Cult leaders (and the hapless souls who follow them) have proven to be endlessly fascinating -- both on-screen and in real life. Remember when the Waco siege in the early '90s made David Koresh a notorious household name? People just couldn't learn enough about this nerdy dude who convinced dozens of devout followers that he was a true prophet.

It's easy to wonder how one person (or, in some cases a small group) can talk others into a blind adoration. That's probably why cults are such popular subject matter for the big and small screen alike. Last year, we saw a psycho hippie cult leader creep out Elizabeth Olsen in Marcy Martha May Marlene. Another cult-focused flick, Sound of My Voice, has been generating buzz since it opened at Sundance. The movie, which is opening in limited release now, tells the story of a couple that tries to infiltrate a suspected cult to sneakily make a documentary about it.

And, later this year, the much-anticipated movie Manson's Girls is set to hit theaters. It imagines the infamous story of Charles Manson and his followers from the perspective of the girls and Bobby Beausoleil, who'll be played by Eric Balfour (Haven, Six Feet Under).

Of course, cults quite frequently pop up on the small screen, too, in everything from procedural crime shows to HBO dramas like Big Love. One of my favorite cult-related TV episodes is "True Believer" from Season 1 of Dollhouse, when Echo becomes a blind woman to infiltrate a creepy cult.

With cult leaders on the brain, I decided to compile a list of my own favorite fictional cult leaders -- from both movies and television. These characters all have the gift of gab, if you will, and can talk their minions into pretty much anything.

1. Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) in The Wicker Man. This Lord Summerisle guy really knows how to keep his flock happy. As long as they have their weird delicious fruit and groovy parties, they'll go along with whatever he wants. Even if that means concocting an elaborate conspiracy to lure a virginal policeman over from the mainland. Diabolical!

2. Isaac Chroner (John Franklin) in Children of the Corn. Young Isaac had a good run while it lasted. He whipped all the town's kids into a murderous frenzy, and successfully convinced them to kill off all the adults to appease the local demon lurking in the cornrows. Not bad for a boy preacher.

3. Roman Grant on Big Love. In spite of his evil ways, Roman's followers (for the most part, anyway) actually believed he was a good guy with their best interests at heart. Maybe it was his love of creepy folk songs. Or his bitchin' cowboy hat.

4. Abin Cooper in Red State. His speeches may have been lengthy, but his followers always ate up every word. Even when he wanted to do super crazy stuff like kill teenagers in front of the "congregation," he was able to rationalize it in such a way that made his followers say, "Yeah, this doesn't seem crazy at all. Let's do this!"

5. Boyd Crowder on Justified. Even as his ideals shifted, Boyd was still able to attract followers. Now that's the mark of a charismatic leader. Whether he was leading his neo-Nazi gang or his reformed band of born-again Christians in the woods, Boyd could talk anyone into almost anything (except that tenacious cowboy Raylan Givens, of course).

categories Movies