Scientology, in case their beliefs are still insanely confusing to you, teaches that humans are immortal creatures who have been brainwashed by the souls of alien creatures known as “thetans.” In order to free oneself from their influence, they must undergo a series of counseling sessions which are made available after a number of fees are paid. Seems pretty straight-forward.
For all its devout followers who swear by the religion, it has received a ton criticism for its weird beliefs, flat-out admission by their founder, L. Ron Hubbard, that the whole thing was concocted to make money, and the Church’s many documented abuses towards members and outsiders who have attempted to discredit them.
Something so influential is bound to show up in popular entertainment a lot, and here Hollywood does not disappoint. Here are ten films, in chronological order, that were influenced by Scientology, either through criticism, celebration, or satire.
10. Phenomenon (July 5, 1996)
Jon Turteltaub’s Phenomenon follows George Malley, a kind yet otherwise unremarkable man living in northern California. On the night of his 37th birthday, he witnesses a blinding white light in the sky. Afterwards, he becomes a genius with an eidetic memory, extraordinary intellectual stamina and telekinetic power. He attempts to use his newfound abilities to help his neighbors and woo a local single mother. However, the government becomes involved after he accidentally decodes a top secret military cypher. When he is taken to a hospital, the true nature of his gifts are revealed.
It’s no secret that the film’s lead actor, Travolta, is a devout Scientologist. However, the film also seems to reflect different teachings of L. Ron Hubbard, such as the freeing of one’s inner mind, the ability of the “freed” individual to heal others and a general distrust of the government and modern medicine. Additionally, consider the fact that in Dianetics, Hubbard explained how devout Scientologists have “complete recall of everything which has ever happened to him or anything he has ever studied.” Suddenly, Travolta’s perfect recall in this film takes on an entirely new meaning.
9. Schizopolis (September 13, 1996)
More well-known for films like Erin Brockovich and Ocean’s Eleven, director Steven Soderberg has also created a number of experimental independent films. One of the most famous is Schizopolis, a fascinating film about the destruction of human communication and the dissatisfaction brought on by societal conformity. Told in a frantic stream-of-consciousness style, the film’s main character is Fletcher Munson, an employee of Theodore Azimuth Schwitters, the head of a religious movement known as Eventualism. The Eventualism offices are depicted as a suffocating hell of office cubicles, pointless busy work and abusive managers. This isn’t too different from allegations brought forward by former Scientologists who have accused the organization of abuse, citing “assaults, threats and virtual slavery.”
8. Bowfinger (August 13, 1999)
In this film, Bobby Bowfinger is a wannabe film producer desperate to bring his dream picture, a ludicrous sci-fi thriller entitled “Chubby Rain,” into fruition. Problem being, his distributor won’t support the film if it doesn’t star Kit Ramsey, the hottest action star in town. However, Ramsey, an extremely high-strung and paranoid follower of a new religious movement named MindHead, won’t agree to do the film. So Bowfinger decides to shoot the film without his knowledge, making his actors approach him on the street and shout gibberish at him. Because MindHead is essentially a thinly veiled parody of Scientology, which purports to help its members “keep in control” against neurotic delusions of alien invaders, Ramsey begins to believe that he is actually in a sci-fi invasion film.
Writer and star Steve Martin has since denied that MindHead is based on Scientology. But the comparisons between the two are impossible to ignore. The most prominent comparison concerns how both MindHead and Scientology give special attention to recruiting and caring for celebrities. As one former Scientologist explained, “There were also numerous financial and course-related benefits that celebrities received. Money and the art of selling Scientology were crucial differences that the ordinary public Scientologist experienced compared to celebrities.”
7. Battlefield Earth (May 12, 2000)
Perhaps the most notorious film on this list, Roger Christian’s Battlefield Earth has gone down in history as one of the biggest financial and critical flops in film history. Based on the L. Ron Hubbard novel of the same name, the film follows a human rebellion against an evil alien race known as the Psychlos, who had conquered and enslaved the Earth 1,000 years ago. In addition to starring noted Scientologist John Travolta, the film also parallels many of Scientology’s teachings. The most prominent is that mankind has been enslaved by an alien species and that humanity must rise up against them and free themselves.
It’s also worth mentioning how the alien species’ name is a transparent reference to psychiatry, a practice which Scientology teaches is destructive. The Church of Scientology has even gone so far as to accuse psychiatry of being at the root of most of the world’s problems, such as terrorism. As one Scientology museum claims, “Research into the engineers of terror atrocities show a dominance of psychiatric and psychological practicing and the typical tools of their trade: drugs and coercive methods.” But even that doesn’t match the vitriol with which L. Ron Hubbard savaged psychiatrists, writing in a 1968 press release: “[Psychiatrists] act like the mad scientists in a bad old-time movie. The true medical doctor is ashamed to be associated with them. The psychiatric idea of man is a Godless, soulless piece of meat.” Reading between the lines a bit, we’re guessing he didn’t like them.