Dick Johnson Is Dead is a 2020 American documentary film directed by Kirsten Johnson and co-written by Johnson and Nels Bangerter. The story focuses on Johnson's father Richard, who suffers from dementia, portraying different ways—some of them violent "accidents"—in which he could ultimately die. In each scenario, the elderly Johnson plays along with his daughter's black humor and imaginative fantasies.[1] The film premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Special Jury Award for Innovation in Non-fiction Storytelling. It was released on Netflix on October 2, 2020.

Dick Johnson Is Dead
Promotional poster
Directed byKirsten Johnson
Written by
  • Nels Bangerter
  • Kirsten Johnson
Produced by
CinematographyKirsten Johnson
Edited byNels Bangerter
Big Mouth Productions
Distributed byNetflix
Release dates
  • January 25, 2020 (2020-01-25) (Sundance)
  • October 2, 2020 (2020-10-02) (United States)
Running time
89 minutes
CountryUnited States



Richard Johnson (referred to as "Dick") is a retired clinical psychiatrist who is suffering from dementia. His daughter Kirsten Johnson involves him in a series of imaginative enactments of his impending death, some of them violent "accidents"[2] such as "falling down a flight of stairs, [or] being struck in the neck and bleeding out".[3] She also has him act out his own funeral and fantasizes about him entering the gates of heaven.[3] Dick amiably plays along with her black humor; in one scene he proposes, "You can euthanize me".[4]




Director Kirsten Johnson at the Miami Film Festival

Kirsten Johnson was inspired to make the film after having a dream in which "there was a man in a casket and he sat up and said, 'I'm Dick Johnson and I'm not dead yet'".[5] When she pitched the idea to her father, she asked him, "Dad, what if we make a movie where we kill you over and over again until you really die? And he laughed".[5]

The film incorporates Johnson family photographs and home movies, including that of Richard Johnson's wife who died from Alzheimer's disease in 2007.[2]



The film premiered on January 25, 2020, at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.[6] It was released on October 2, 2020, via Netflix.[7] It was released in the Criterion Collection in January 2022.[8]

Critical response


On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 100%, based on 90 reviews, with an average rating of 8.7/10. The critics consensus reads "Dick Johnson Is Dead celebrates a life with bittersweet humor and grace, offering a deeply resonant perspective on mortality in the bargain."[9] Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 89 out of 100, based on 28 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[10]

Guy Lodge, writing for Variety, said: "At once a celebration and a lament, simultaneously jubilant and ineffably sad, it's a film worth sticking around to see".[11] Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter called the film "one of the craftiest and funniest love letters ever composed". He continued: "Technically, this is a valentine, but it's also a serious attempt on a child's part to not only share some meaningful final moments with her father but to delay the inevitable by repeatedly imagining and even enacting it for the camera".[2] Eric Kohn writing for IndieWire pinpointed that the title of the film "doesn't lie, but it's not exactly truthful, either". He further explained that "Dick Johnson dies many times in his daughter Kirsten's poignant and personal documentary, starting with the opening credits. And yet he's very much alive the whole time, playacting in an elaborate form of cinematic therapy with his filmmaker offspring as she wrestles with the anxiety of losing him".[12]

Nick Allen of RogerEbert.com also remarked on Johnson's "playfulness" as she stages her father's death scenes, as well as her "transparency": "And every time she abruptly cuts to a Dick death scene (BOOM! An air conditioner just fell on his head), the movie shows us the film set, the Dick stunt doubles, and Kirsten directing all of it". He concludes: "The film is not just about having these images of Johnson, but the process of it—so much that it leaves you wondering if there's more to be said about how these experimental recreations draw different lines of sensitivity for Kirsten and Dick".[4] Alissa Wilkinson of Vox wrote: "American culture fears death, hides it, tries to forget it's going to happen, and goes to great lengths to stave it off. But Dick Johnson Is Dead suggests that learning to confront reminders of death, to even conjure them for yourself and examine them closely, takes some of the sting out of death and replaces it with love".[13]

David Leitner of Filmmaker magazine wrote: "For humor this dark, all one can say is, like father, like daughter".[14] Brianna Zigler of Little White Lies wrote: "Love, laughter and death are not mutually exclusive: after all, to mourn someone is to have loved them and to have known them, which is a beautiful thing – something the film illustrates quite elegantly".[3] Jordan Raup of The Film Stage wrote: "Dick Johnson Is Dead might be one of the most universal films ever made. Providing levity and comfort to ideas of mortality, Kirsten Johnson has illuminated the sweet embrace of death".[15]


Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
Sundance Film Festival February 1, 2020 U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Innovation in Nonfiction Storytelling Kirsten Johnson Won [16][17]
Critics' Choice Documentary Awards November 16, 2020 Best Documentary Feature Dick Johnson Is Dead Won [18]
Best Director Kirsten Johnson Won
Best Cinematography Nominated
Best Narration Nominated
Most Compelling Living Subjects of a Documentary Dick Johnson Won
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards December 21, 2020 Best Documentary Dick Johnson Is Dead Won [19]
Florida Film Critics Circle Awards December 21, 2020 Best Documentary Film Runner-up [20]
International Documentary Association Awards January 16, 2021 Best Editing Nels Bangerter Won [21]
Best Writing Nels Bangerter and Kirsten Johnson Won
Cinema Eye Honors Documentary Awards March 9, 2021 Outstanding Nonfiction Feature Kirsten Johnson, Katy Chevigny, Marilyn Ness Nominated [22]
Outstanding Direction Kirsten Johnson Won
Audience Choice Prize Nominated
The Unforgettables Dick Johnson Won
Producers Guild of America Awards March 24, 2021 Outstanding Producer of Documentary Theatrical Motion Pictures Dick Johnson Is Dead Nominated [23]
American Cinema Editors Awards April 17, 2021 Best Edited Documentary (Feature) Nels Bangerter Nominated [24]
Independent Spirit Awards April 22, 2021 Best Documentary Feature Dick Johnson Is Dead Nominated [25][26]
Detroit Film Critics Society Awards Detroit Film Critics Society Award for Best Documentary Dick Johnson Is Dead Won [27]
Primetime Emmy Awards September 18, 2021 Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking Kirsten Johnson, Katy Chevigny and Marilyn Ness Nominated [28]
Outstanding Directing for a Documentary/Nonfiction Program Kirsten Johnson Won
Outstanding Cinematography for Nonfiction Program Nominated


  1. ^ The Criterion Collection
  2. ^ a b c "'Dick Johnson Is Dead': Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. 25 January 2020. Archived from the original on 2020-02-04. Retrieved 2020-02-04.
  3. ^ a b c "Dick Johnson Is Dead first look review – A moving, absurd portrait of death". Little White Lies. Archived from the original on 2020-01-28. Retrieved 2020-02-04.
  4. ^ a b Allen, Nick. "Sundance 2020: Kajillionaire, Dick Johnson is Dead | Sundance | Roger Ebert". www.rogerebert.com. Archived from the original on 2020-02-04. Retrieved 2020-02-04.
  5. ^ a b Handler, Rachel (2020-01-29). "Kirsten Johnson on Fake-Killing Her Dad (Over and Over) in Dick Johnson Is Dead". Vulture. Archived from the original on 2020-02-04. Retrieved 2020-02-04.
  6. ^ Wilkinson, Alissa (2020-02-03). "The 13 best premieres we saw at Sundance". Vox. Retrieved 2020-02-04.
  7. ^ Truitt, Brian (August 28, 2020). "10 must-see new movies to stream while stuck at home this fall, from 'Mulan' to 'Rebecca'". USA Today. Retrieved August 28, 2020.
  8. ^ Moore, Kasey (2022-07-22). "Every Netflix Movie in the Criterion Collection". What's on Netflix. Retrieved 2022-07-22.
  9. ^ "Dick Johnson Is Dead (2020)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  10. ^ "Dick Johnson Is Dead". Metacritic. Archived from the original on 2020-02-04. Retrieved October 6, 2020.
  11. ^ Lodge, Guy (2020-01-26). "'Dick Johnson Is Dead': Film Review". Variety. Archived from the original on 2020-02-04. Retrieved 2020-02-04.
  12. ^ Kohn, Eric (2020-01-26). "'Dick Johnson Is Dead' Review: A Touching Elegy to a Man Who's Still Alive". IndieWire. Archived from the original on 2020-02-04. Retrieved 2020-02-04.
  13. ^ Wilkinson, Alissa (2020-01-26). "In Dick Johnson Is Dead, a father and daughter imagine his death with humor and love". Vox. Archived from the original on 2020-02-04. Retrieved 2020-02-04.
  14. ^ Leitner, David (31 January 2020). "Sundance (and Slamdance) 2020 Dispatch #7: Dick Johnson is Dead, Kajillionaire The Glorias, Boy's State and More". Filmmaker Magazine. Archived from the original on 2020-02-04. Retrieved 2020-02-04.
  15. ^ Raup, Jordan (2020-01-29). "Sundance Review: Dick Johnson Is Dead Brilliantly Brings Levity to the Universal Truth of Death". The Film Stage. Archived from the original on 2020-02-04. Retrieved 2020-02-04.
  16. ^ "U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Innovation in Nonfiction Storytelling — Dick Johnson Is Dead". Sundance Film Festival. Archived from the original on 2020-02-04. Retrieved 2020-02-04.
  17. ^ Hipes, Patrick (February 1, 2020). "Sundance Film Festival Awards: 'Minari' Scores Double Top Honors – The Complete Winners List". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved December 28, 2020.
  18. ^ Hammond, Pete (November 16, 2020). "Netflix Films 'Dick Johnson Is Dead' And 'My Octopus Teacher' Lead Critics' Choice Documentary Award Winners". Deadline. Retrieved December 28, 2020.
  19. ^ Pedersen, Erik (December 21, 2020). "Chicago Film Critics Awards: 'Nomadland' Scores Best Picture, Director, Actress & Two Others". Deadline. Retrieved December 28, 2020.
  20. ^ "2020 FFCC Winners". Florida Film Critics Circle. December 21, 2020. Retrieved December 26, 2020.
  21. ^ Thompson, Anne (November 24, 2020). "Netflix's 'Crip Camp' Leads International Documentary Association Awards Nominations". IndieWire. Retrieved December 28, 2020.
  22. ^ Pond, Steve (December 10, 2020). "'Time' Tops Cinema Eye Honors Nominations for 2020 Documentaries". TheWrap. Retrieved December 28, 2020.
  23. ^ Tangcay, Jazz (February 2, 2021). "'Truffle Hunters,' 'Time' and 'Dick Johnson Is Dead' Among Producers Guild Doc Nominations". Variety. Retrieved February 3, 2021.
  24. ^ Giardina, Carolyn (March 11, 2021). "'Minari,' 'Trial of the Chicago 7' Among American Cinema Editors' Eddie Awards Nominees". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 11, 2021.
  25. ^ Warren, Matt (January 26, 2021). "2021 Film Independent Spirit Award Nominations Announced!". Film Independent. Retrieved February 5, 2021.
  26. ^ "SPIRIT AWARDS NOMINATIONS (2021) | Presenters Olivia Wilde, Barry Jenkins & Laverne Cox". YouTube. January 26, 2021. Retrieved January 26, 2021.
  27. ^ "The 2020 Detroit Film Critics Society Awards". Detroit Film Critics Society. Archived from the original on July 16, 2019. Retrieved May 17, 2021.
  28. ^ "Dick Johnson Is Dead". Emmys.com. Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved July 13, 2021.