Introduction The purpose of this critical review is to look at the current literature regarding mass gatherings and to create further understanding of this area with a particular focus on what the audience brings with them to the event, particularly in a planned event with a cultural theme or focus. Through an understanding of these predispositions and consequent effects on audience behavior in a mass-gathering setting, a more complete understanding of motivation factors of crowds and audiences can also be found. Methods A critical review of mass-gathering literature was undertaken by searching various online academic databases. Peer-reviewed scholarly articles relevant to the cultural aspects associated with religious, sporting and music mass gatherings were also analyzed. Results Results from the review show that the word culture is often used to explain what happens at the event without reflecting how the motivations or behaviors of audiences at an event are influenced by the cultural predispositions of the audience. Conclusions By understanding the cultural predispositions of the audience, event planners and designers, event risk managers and event safety personnel are able to better understand the motivation of the audience and how this might impact on audience behavior at the event. Further work needs to be done, however, to investigate the broader range of predispositions. The ultimate aim of developing this understanding is to better inform the health promotion and public health messages that can be developed for a particular type of event based on the likely composition of the audience in attendance.