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HBO is taking on the Heaven's Gate cult story – will it be a movie? Here's everything to know about the documentary.

Is HBO making a Heaven’s Gate movie? Everything you need to know

Cults have been a popular subject lately, especially for those who are interested in true crime. As always, HBO Max is taking advantage of this curiosity with its new docuseries, Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults. Exploring the late 20th-century cult, Heaven’s Gate, the docuseries will take on one of the more infamous cults, which committed mass suicide in an attempt to ascend their souls to an alien spaceship on a comet in space.

Heaven’s Gate has a long history, starting in the mid-1970s before the mass suicide in 1997, but this new docuseries looks like it will explore the years leading up to the critical day. For example, after the group resurfaced in the 90s, Heaven’s Gate utilized new technology like the internet to reach a broader audience. 

Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults, set to be four parts, looks to explore how founders Marshall Applewhite & Bonnie Lu Nettles were able to convince people to abandon their families and join a cult which ultimately led to their demise. Here’s what we know about Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults along with a brief overview of the cult the docuseries will explore.

About the documentary

Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults doesn’t have a premiere date yet, but Entertainment Weekly suggests the docuseries will premiere later this year. It’ll premiere specifically on HBO Max as part of CNN Original Series, the first of four docuseries produced by CNN slated to premiere on the streaming service.

The four-part docuseries is directed by Clay Tweel, known for his work on Netflix’s The Innocent Man, Gleason, & Finders Keepers. Documentary fans may also recognize the production company behind Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults, Campfire, which produced the highly acclaimed Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

Entertainment Weekly announced Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults would include never-before-seen footage and interviews with former members of the Heaven’s Gate cult & loved ones of those who had died.

Heaven’s Gate cult

Marshall Applewhite & Bonnie Lu Nettles were the brains behind the Heaven’s Gate cult. Nettles & Applewhite met while Nettles was a nurse at a psychiatric institution where Applewhite stayed in 1972, according to Rolling Stone. Combining Christianity, aliens, & science-fiction media, Applewhite & Nettles created their own belief system and advertised it to the community. 

Over the next few years, Applewhite & Nettles were able to recruit twenty people in Oregon. By 1975, Applewhite & Nettles, who would later go by “Do” & “Ti”, respectively, convinced their twenty followers to disappear and leave their loved ones to move to Colorado, where they promised to take them to a spaceship which would go to the “kingdom of heaven”. Since the spaceship never arrived, membership diminished.

However, even after Nettles’ death in 1985, membership picked back up again in the 1990s, when Applewhite started to use the newly established Internet to gain new members. Along with their beliefs in aliens, the Heaven’s Gate cult believed in abstinence, the apocalypse (which they said would arrive before 2027) and believed they had to leave their bodies behind on Earth to enter another world. 

Mass suicide

The first clip of the docuseries, exclusively premiered on Entertainment Weekly, showed one of the most infamous parts of Heaven’s Gate: the mass suicide. On March 26, 1997, thirty-nine Heaven’s Gate cult members were found dead in a San Diego mansion. The members were led to believe they were leaving their “containers”, or bodies, to enter an alien spaceship on the Hale-Bopp comet passing over Earth in space.

However, one man on the clip suggests people should look more at why people were so willing to believe in Applewhite’s teachings and commit suicide for the cult rather than primarily explore the mass suicide itself. We can expect the docuseries to focus on the years before the mass suicide as Applewhite & Nettles drew people into the cult. 

According to Rolling Stone, the mass suicide took place over the course of three days, as smaller groups assisted others with their suicides. They would eat phenobarbital-laced food, drink vodka, and wear plastic bags over their heads. There was also an “upbeat” farewell video, showcasing members who appeared happy to be leaving earth, with one member saying it was, “the happiest day of my life”, according to The New York Times.

Are you excited to watch Heaven’s Gate on HBO Max? Let us know below.

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