A teenaged girl named Natalie (Morgan Griffin) is driving through the San Fernando Valley when a rockslide pushes her car over the edge, making it tumble hard down the hill and getting Natalie and her car stuck in a wedge over certain doom. A rescue team led by Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) flies in from their chopper to save Natalie. One of Ray's teammates, Joby (Colton Haynes), descends on a rope to try and stabilize the car. The car slides and pins Joby's arm against the hill. Ray comes down and pulls Natalie out before the car plummets to the ground. Joby gives Ray a thumbs up with his good arm.
At CalTech, Dr. Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) is giving a lecture to his students on a history of devastating earthquakes around the globe. Afterwards, Lawrence is approached by his friend and colleague Dr. Kim Park (Will Yun Lee) over some seismic activity nearby.
On Ray's day off, he wants to spend quality time with his daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario). She tells him she's made plans with her mom Emma (Carla Gugino) and Emma's new boyfriend Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd). To make things worse for Ray, he receives an envelope with divorce papers. He goes into Blake's old room and finds a picture of all three of them plus Ray's other daughter Mallory, who tragically drowned in a rafting accident.
Lawrence and Kim go to the Hoover Dam to observe and record the seismic activity. However, Kim notices that there is an even bigger quake happening at that moment. The ground begins to tremble, and the Dam starts to crack. Lawrence tells everyone to get off the Dam. While everyone runs, Kim sees a little girl hiding in fear. He takes her and runs to safety as the concrete starts to break beneath his feet. Knowing he won't make it, Kim throws the little girl to Lawrence, who catches her. Kim's foot gets impaled on a steel bar, and he tells the girl to close her eyes. The Dam bursts, taking Kim with it. Lawrence watches in horror as his friend dies and the structure is destroyed.
Ray meets with Blake, Emma, and Daniel before they go off on a trip together to Daniel's place in San Francisco. Ray is none too happy to learn that Emma is already moving in with Daniel in a new high-rise that he helped construct. The three fly to San Francisco, where Daniel assures Blake that he doesn't intend to replace what she has with her father.
Lawrence is approached by a reporter named Serena (Archie Panjabi) over the recent disaster in Nevada. Although slightly hesitant following Kim's death, Lawrence proceeds with the interview. It's interrupted when some of Lawrence's colleagues detect heavier seismic activity all along the San Andreas Fault. Lawrence realizes that all the major cities are headed for trouble.
Blake goes to the office building where Daniel works. There, she meets a friendly British guy named Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his younger brother Ollie (Art Parkinson). Ben and Blake are clearly attracted to each other, but Ben gets annoyed when Ollie keeps talking to Blake. Ben goes off to have an interview with Daniel, leaving Ollie with Blake. After talking for a while, she writes her number down for Ben.
Emma is having lunch in Los Angeles with Daniel's sister Susan (Kylie Minogue), who is snotty and makes an insensitive comment regarding Mallory's death. Emma takes a phone call from Ray, who is flying in his chopper. As they talk, Emma notices the silverware on the table shaking. A huge quake starts to hit, rocking the whole building. From Ray's view, he sees a highway collapse. He tells Emma to run to the roof where he can find her. The earthquake continues, causing debris to fall and crush people. Susan runs out the exit, only to fall to her death since that part of the building has broken off. Emma tries to guide people to the roof, but everyone runs downstairs. She gets to the roof to see the other buildings collapse. Ray manages to find her as the building starts to catch fire. He drops a safety harness for her to grab. Emma runs to it moments before the building is totally destroyed. Ray flies her away.
Daniel and Blake are being driven away from the parking garage as the quake hits. The driver is crushed and killed, pinning Blake's legs down. Daniel says he is going to get help, but he runs away like a coward and tells as guard that Blake is trapped down there. Ben overhears and runs downstairs with Ollie to rescue her. They try lifting the debris off, but it's too heavy. Ben looks in the trunk of the car and finds something to lift the car, while also flattening the tires to pull Blake out before she gets completely crushed.
Lawrence and his colleagues scramble to find ways to warn people of the impending doom. With Serena's help, they send a broadcast to the people of California to escape however they can, because the next wave of quakes is expected to be even more powerful and is to be felt all the way on the East Coast.
Blake joins the brothers as they make their way onto the streets. They go to an electronics store to call Ray since their cell service is down. Blake tells her parents that Daniel abandoned her but she is with Ben and Ollie. They decide to rendezvous at Colt Tower to be rescued. After they hang up with Blake, Emma calls Daniel and threatens to kill him to leaving Blake alone.
Daniel is wandering through the city when another quake hits. He pushes a man hanging onto a pole to avoid the large gust of wind that follows.
The chopper starts to fail after taking a hit in LA. Ray and Emma are forced to crash land in Bakersfield in a shopping center. They see people looting from a store and then spot a pick-up truck. Ray tries to hotwire it until a punk holds a gun to his head. Ray takes the gun and knocks him out and then drives the car away. Throughout their trip, they continue to discuss what happened to Mallory and the effect it had on them and their marriage. They drive past an elderly couple trying to flag them down. They stop right before a massive opening along the San Andreas Fault, separating the earth. Ray and Emma return to the couple and thank them for the warning. Ray learns that the man has a plane, and they trade it for the truck.
Blake, Ben, and Ollie continue walking and find that Colt Tower is engulfed in flames. They come across a fire truck and get some supplies. Blake then resolves to go to Nob Hill to reach higher ground. Ben is hesitant, but Ollie has come to trust Blake and agrees with her decision. An aftershock hits and a shard of glass gets into Ben's leg. Blake makes a tourniquet for him and carries him to safety.
Ray and Emma make it to San Francisco but notice the water levels receding. A huge tsunami is ready to hit the city. Ray and Emma get on a motorboat and head to safety. Blake, Ben, and Ollie run into Daniel's unfinished building to get to safety. As Blake helps Ben, he tells her she is unbelievable, and they kiss. The water rises and then crashes onto the city. Daniel is running along the Golden Gate Bridge when a cargo ship flies over and drops a freight container right on top of him. The rest of the Bridge is destroyed and thousands are killed.
Ray and Emma ride the boat by the high-rise, where Blake and Ollie can see them. She signals her parents with a laser pointer, allowing them to find her. The building then starts to sink, and the water level rises. Ray kisses Emma and promises to get their girl out. He rushes into the building to save Blake while Ben takes Ollie to higher ground. Ray finds Blake trapped in another room as the door won't budge. She tells Ray she loves him as he struggles to break her out. Ray gets her out as she goes unconscious and finds Ben and Ollie. Emma rams the boat into the building and gets everyone out before the building completely comes down. Ray tries to revive Blake with CPR, but it looks like she is gone. Ray refuses to give up, and he eventually saves her.
When the disaster is finally over, the family and the brothers find refuge at a camp in Marin County. Help is being given to all those that lost their homes and loved ones. Ray and Emma appear to have reconciled. He thanks Ben for being there for Blake, though Ben insists it's the other way around. Emma asks Ray, "What now?" He says, "Now we rebuild."
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