The Dead Zone is a 1983 American science-fiction thriller film directed by David Cronenberg. The screenplay, by Jeffrey Boam, is based on the 1979 novel of the same name by Stephen King. The film stars Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt, Herbert Lom, Martin Sheen, Anthony Zerbe, and Colleen Dewhurst. Walken plays a schoolteacher, Johnny Smith, who awakens from a coma to find he has psychic powers. The film received positive reviews. The novel also inspired a television series of the same name in the early 2000s, starring Anthony Michael Hall, the 2-hour pilot episode of which borrowed some ideas and changes used in the 1983 film.
In the novel, the phrase "dead zone" refers to the part of Johnny Smith's brain that is irreparably damaged, resulting in his dormant psychic potential awakening. When some information in Johnny's visions is beyond his perception, he considers that information as existing "in the dead zone." In the film adaptation, the phrase "dead zone" is that part of his psychic vision that is missing, a blank area that he cannot see. This "dead zone" refers to an outcome that is not yet determined, meaning Johnny can change the future.
After having a headache following a ride on a roller coaster, Castle Rock, Maine, schoolteacher Johnny Smith politely declines when his girlfriend Sarah asks if he wants to spend the night with her. As he drives home through stormy weather, he has a car accident that leaves him in a coma. Awakening under the care of neurologist Dr. Sam Weizak, he finds that five years have passed, and Sarah is now a married mother.
Johnny discovers that he can now learn aspects of a person's life through physical contact. As he touches a nurse's hand, he sees her daughter trapped in a fire. He also sees that Weizak's mother, long thought to have died during World War 2, is still alive, and that a pushy reporter's sister killed herself. Johnny's mother has a heart attack and dies after Johnny visits her in the hospital.
As news of his gift spreads, Sheriff George Bannerman asks Johnny for help with a series of murders, but he wishes to be left alone. Sarah visits with her infant son, and Johnny and she have sex, though she declines a further relationship. Having a change of heart about the murders, Johnny agrees to help Bannerman, and through a vision at the crime scene, he discovers that Bannerman's deputy Frank Dodd is the killer. Before they can arrest him, Dodd kills himself. Dodd's mother shoots Johnny before being killed by Bannerman.
Disillusioned and barely able to walk, Johnny moves away and attempts to live a more isolated life. He tutors children, working from home until a wealthy man named Roger Stuart implores him to come visit and tutor his son, Chris. They form a friendship, but Johnny soon receives a vision of Chris and two other boys drowning in a local pond during an ice hockey game that Stuart was going to coach. He implores Stuart to change his plans but he refuses. He smashes a vase with his cane to make his point and is terminated. Despite Stuart's skepticism, Chris believes Johnny and stays home, but the other two boys drown, greatly shocking Stuart. Johnny realizes he has a "dead zone" in his visions, where the future is changeable.
Johnny attends a rally for Greg Stillson, a superficially charismatic third-party candidate for the United States Senate, for whom Sarah and her husband volunteer. Johnny shakes Stillson's hand, revealing Stillson as a ruthless demagogue, who as President, orders what appears to be a pre-emptive nuclear strike. Johnny seeks out Weizak's advice, asking, for instance, if he would have killed Adolf Hitler if he had the chance, knowing beforehand the atrocities Hitler would commit. Weizak replies that he would have had no choice but to kill him. Johnny leaves Sarah a letter, telling her that what he is about to do will cost him his life, but is a worthwhile sacrifice.
Johnny loads a rifle and takes aim at Stillson at a rally, with Sarah in the audience. His shot misses the target, but Stillson grabs Sarah's baby and holds him as a human shield. Johnny refuses to risk hitting the child. A photographer snaps a picture of Stillson holding the baby. Sarah retrieves her baby, but before Johnny attempts to fire again, he is shot by Stillson's bodyguard. Confronted by Stillson, Johnny grabs his hand and foresees Stillson's reputation and political ambitions being ruined; after the photograph of his cowardly act is published, Stillson will commit suicide. Johnny lies dying, satisfied that the holocaust has been averted. Sarah embraces Johnny and tells him that she loves him as he dies.