You can't get any more apocalyptic than Roland Emmerich's 2012, a frustrated writer struggles to keep his family alive when a series of global catastrophes threatens to annihilate mankind. Though the film is often categorized as sci-fi, it could be said this falls within the action disaster genre. Or it could fall within the sub-genre Environmental Sci-Fi. Whichever genre or sub-genre you prefer to view it as, there's no doubt this film has a truck load of apocalyptic disasters.
2009, Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), an American geologist, visits astrophysicist Dr. Satnam Tsurutani (Jimi Mistry) in India and learns that neutrinos from a massive solar flare are causing the temperature of the Earth's core to increase rapidly.
Adrian gives a report on this to White House Chief of Staff Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt) who ends up taking Adrian to meet the President of the United States. In 2010, President Thomas Wilson (Danny Glover) and other international leaders begin a secret project to ensure humanity's survival.
Approximately 400,000 people are chosen to board "arks" that are constructed at Cho Ming, Tibet, in the Himalayas. At the same time as the People's Liberation Army are gathering volunteers, a Buddhist monk named Nima (Osric Chau) is evacuated while his brother Tenzin (Chin Han) joins the workers in the Ark project.
Additional funding for the project is raised by selling tickets to the private sector for 1 billion per person. By 2011, humanity's valuable treasures are moved to the Himalayas under the guise of protecting them from terrorist attacks with the help of art expert and First Daughter Dr. Laura Wilson (Thandie Newton).
In 2012, Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) is a science fiction writer in Los Angeles who works part-time as a limousine driver for the Russian billionaire, Yuri Karpov (Zlatko Buri). Jackson's ex-wife, Kate (Amanda Peet) and their children Noah (Liam James) and Lilly (Morgan Lily) live with Kate's boyfriend, plastic surgeon Gordon Silberman (Thomas McCarthy).
Jackson takes Noah and Lilly camping in Yellowstone National Park. After an encounter with Helmsley, they meet Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson), who hosts a radio show from the park. Charlie, a conspiracy theorist, plays a video of Charles Hapgood's theory that polar shifts and the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar predict that the 2012 phenomenon will occur.
He has a map of the ark project in addition to information about officials and scientists from around the world who were murdered after planning to alert the public. The family returns home as seismic activity vastly increases along the west coast of the United States.
Jackson grows suspicious and rents a plane to rescue his family. He collects his family and Gordon as the Earth crust displacement begins, and they narrowly escape Los Angeles as the city slips into the Pacific Ocean. As millions die in catastrophic earthquakes worldwide, the group flies to Yellowstone to retrieve Charlie's map, escaping as the Yellowstone Caldera erupts.
Charlie stays behind to broadcast the eruption and is killed in the blast of the expulsion of an ash cloud. Learning that the arks are in China, the group lands in a devastated Las Vegas to find a larger plane. They meet Yuri, his twin sons Alec and Oleg (played by Alexandre and Philippe Haussmann), girlfriend Tamara (Beatrice Rosen) and pilot Sasha (Johann Urb).
The group secures an Antonov An-225 aircraft and they depart for China. Also heading for the arks aboard Air Force One are Anheuser, Helmsley and Laura Wilson. President Wilson remains in Washington, D.C. to address the nation one last time.
With the Vice President dead and the Speaker of the House missing, Anheuser assumes de facto leadership. President Wilson is later killed by a megatsunami that sends the aircraft carrier USS JohnF.Kennedy crashing into the White House.
Sasha and the group plan to land briefly at Hawaii to refuel, however, the island chain has been devastated by volcanic activity. Continuing on, Sasha fears they may run out of fuel before making it to mainland Asia. They discover that the seismic activity of the Earth's surface has shifted the Chinese coast 1500 miles east and they are able to make a crash landing that kills Sasha.
The group is spotted by the People's Liberation Army. Yuri and his sons, possessing tickets, are taken to the arks, leaving Tamara and the others behind. They are picked up by Nima and are taken to the arks with his grandparents (Lisa Lu and Chang Tseng).
They stow away on the ark with the help of Tenzin. As a megatsunami approaches the site, an impact driver becomes lodged between the gears of the ark's hydraulics chamber, preventing a boarding gate from closing and rendering the ship unable to start its engines.
In the ensuing chaos, Yuri, Gordon and Tamara are killed, Tenzin is wounded, and the ark is set adrift. Just before he dies, Yuri is able hoist both his sons up to crew members of the ship; in doing so, he jumps to his death. Jackson and Noah dislodge the impact driver and the crew regains control of the ark before it can impact Mount Everest.
After flood waters from the tsunamis recede, the arks travel to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa where the Drakensberg Mountains have risen in relation to sea level and become the tallest mountain range on Earth.
2012 earned $166,112,167 in North America and $603,567,306 in other territories for a worldwide total of $769,679,473. Worldwide it is the 47th highest grossing film, the fifth highest-grossing 2009 film and the fifth highest-grossing film distributed by Sony/Columbia, behind Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy and Skyfall.
It is also the second highest grossing film directed by Emmerich, behind Independence Day. On its worldwide opening weekend it made $230.5 million, marking the fourth-largest opening of 2009 and the fourth-largest for Sony/Columbia.
In North America, it grossed $65,237,614 on its first weekend, ranking number one and marking the 10th highest-grossing opening weekend for a film released in November. The film grossed $166,112,167 in total. Outside North America, it is the 19th highest-grossing film, the fourth highest-grossing 2009 film and the second highest-grossing film distributed by Sony/Columbia, after Skyfall.
It earned $165.2 million on its opening weekend, which ranks as the 10th largest opening. Its largest opening was recorded in France and the Maghreb region ($18.0 million). In total earnings, its three highest-grossing territories after North America are France and the Maghreb region ($44.0 million), Japan ($42.6 million), and Germany ($37.7 million).
The film received generally mixed reviews from film critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rating of 39% based on reviews from 238 critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 5 out of 10.
The site's consensus is that "Roland Emmerich's 2012 provides plenty of visual thrills, but lacks a strong enough script to support its massive scope and inflated length." Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 1–100 reviews from film critics, gives a rating score of 49 based on 34 reviews.
Roger Ebert was enthusiastic about the film, giving it 3½ stars out of 4, saying it "delivers what it promises, and since no sentient being will buy a ticket expecting anything else, it will be, for its audiences, one of the most satisfactory films of the year".
Both Ebert and Claudia Puig of USA Today called the film the "mother of all disaster movies". Peter Travers of Rolling Stone criticized the film by comparing it to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: "Beware 2012, which works the dubious miracle of almost matching Transformers 2 for sheer, cynical, mind-numbing, time-wasting, money-draining, soul-sucking stupidity."