Film: The Day After Tomorrow

"This movie is to climate science as Frankenstein is to transplant surgery."

The Day After Tomorrow is a 2004 American climate fiction-disaster film co-written, directed, and produced by Roland Emmerich and starring Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ian Holm, Emmy Rossum, and Sela Ward. The film depicts fictional catastrophic climatic effects in a series of extreme weather events that usher in global cooling and leads to a new ice age.

At the center of the story is a paleoclimatologist (a scientist who studies the ways weather patterns changed in the past), Professor Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid), who tries to save the world from the effects of global warming while also trying to rescue his son, Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his friends who are stuck in New York and who have managed to survive not only a massive wave but also freezing cold temperatures that could possibly kill them.

The film was made in Toronto and Montreal and is the highest-grossing Hollywood film to be made in Canada (if adjusted for inflation).

Not to be confused with The Day After.


This film provides examples of:

  • Adult Fear: Having your child trapped in a city hit by a disaster. Also, being trapped in frozen Scotland, and hoping that your wife and infant son made it to Spain in time to be with your mother-in-law.
  • Alternate DVD Commentary: This has a Rifftrax.
  • Alternative Foreign Theme Song: The Japanese version gets a theme song called "More Than a Million Miles" by a band called...Day After Tomorrow.
  • Apocalypse How: Class 0 on a large scale, but the Inferred Holocaust pushes it close to Class 1.
  • Artistic License Awards: U.S. Academic Decathlon will NEVER offer $1 billion cash prize to the national winners. For comparison, that's about 1/16 of NASA's budget, and the highest jackpot in US history is just $656 million.
  • Artistic License Geography: Ho boy...
  • Artistic License Law: Under National Aeronautics and Space Act, Tokada won't be the only researcher NASA sent out.
  • Artistic License Medicine: Peter, the Littlest Cancer Patient, went through chemotherapy and lost his hair but apparently his eye lashes stayed unaffected.
  • As You Know: Brian mention to Sam that it has been raining like this for three days, which was obviously an Info Dump for the audience.
  • Audible Sharpness: When the frost covers the helicopters and they fall to the ground, their frozen propellers do this.
  • Audience Murmurs: When Jack announces his theory that a change in the ocean currents could have caused the disaster, the room full of scientists is murmuring.
  • Big Applesauce: New York City gets flooded by a tsunami.
  • Body Horror: People freeze completely in seconds if they have the unfortunate luck of being in the eye of the storm.
  • Big Damn Kiss: Between Laura and Sam on the couch in front of the fireplace at the library.
  • Bilingual Dialogue: When Jack is giving his conference about the possible effects of the violent climate change, an Arabian ambassador asks him, in his native tongue, what could possibly happen. Jack talks back to him in English.
  • Bittersweet Ending: A substantial portion of the world's population has been wiped out, most of the planet's fertile farmland is coated in ice, and Europe, Russia, Canada, and the United States are uninhabitable wastelands. It's bittersweet only because part of humanity survives, mostly the Third World inhabitants and refugees from the newly frozen regions.
  • Black and Nerdy: One of the funnier characters. ("Hey, guys? There's a whole section on tax law down here that we can burn."), ("Sir, I am president of the Electronics Club, the Math Club, and the Chess Club. Now if there's a bigger nerd in here, please... point him out." )
  • Book Burning: Though it's pointed out that they do it for survival.
  • Break the Haughty: The Cheney Captain Ersatz is a lot more humble when he takes office at the end of the film. It started from the moment Jack advocated the evacuation of the South. By that point, he's only trying to obstruct Jack's plan to save the people in the North.
    General: Sometimes it's necessary to make difficult choices!
    Vice President: I don't accept that abandoning half of the country is necessary!
  • British Royal Family: The helicopters on their way to rescue them from Balmoral hit a superstorm eye, froze, and crashed.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Laura's cut wound is not mentioned again until later in the story when her blood infection becomes a matter of life and death.
    • The pack of wolves who are shortly shown to have escaped from the zoo and later return to the plot to haunt Sam and his companions on the Russian tanker.
  • Closest Thing We Got: When Jack protests that his simulation model is a reconstruction of a prehistoric climate shift and not a forecast model, Prof. Rapson replies: "It's the closest thing we have."
  • Complete-the-Quote Title: Two library-bound survivors ask whether they should burn the works of Friedrich Nietzsche, whose "The Antichrist" states in its preface: "Only the day after tomorrow belongs to me. Some are born posthumously." Part of this line provided this movie's title.
  • A Crack In The Ice:
    • In the first minutes, a science station has been set up on the Antarctic ice shelf. A crack in the snow appears. Moments later, a crevasse divides the camp in two.
    • Later, a sled is sucked into a hole that appears in the snow. Moments later it's revealed that it's actually not a crevasse but a hole in the glass roof of a shopping mall buried in the snow!
  • Creator Cameo: In the scene of the British helicopters crashing, producer Mark Gordon plays the pilot being instantly frozen.
  • Cut the Safety Rope: One of Jack's companions falls through the snow-covered Galleria's skylight and, knowing his friends will fall as well if he doesn't relieve the burden on the rope that links them, cuts it himself and drops to save the others.
  • Deadline News: A reporter in Los Angeles is hit by a billboard. Also, a guy who's in the middle of it is in his car and gets crushed by a flying bus, and the scene is caught on video. Ironically, the commentator from the helicopter says "I hope no one was in that car!"
  • Deadpan Snarker: A vast majority of the characters each manage to riff a snarky one-liner, but out of all of them, Brian is probably the biggest snarker.
  • Death by Sex: Weather guy and the girl he was with while the tornadoes were blowing through LA.
  • Death from Above: In the form of massive hail in Tokyo.
  • Designated Love Interest: Laura for Sam.
  • Distress Ball: The movie wouldn't exist without it.
    • The opening scene in which Jack risks his life to save three tubes of ice cores. A minute earlier they showed us the interior of the tent with numerous other tubes. There was no indication that the three tubes were precious enough to die for.
    • J.D., who desperately needs to leave the safety of his father's apartment to pick up his brother in Philadelphia.
    • Sam, who desperately wants to go home in the worst weather conditions.
    • Jack, who desperately needs to travel from Washington D.C. to New York and save his son.
    • The policeman in the library, who urges everybody to set out and find a rescue party that may or may not be there several miles away.
  • Divorce Is Temporary: Jack and Lucy are broken up at the beginning due to Jack's work taking him away from the family. But he realizes how much he's missed and after risking his life to save his son from frozen New York, he and Lucy move toward reconciling.
  • Do Not Touch the Funnel Cloud: Do not follow the funnel cloud in a helicopter from one block away.
  • Doomed Contrarian:
    • Played straight with the big group of people that ignores Sam's warnings and leaves the safety of the library. We learn later that they froze to death.
    • It is then averted with the Dick Cheney-esque Vice President who believed that taking action to stop global warming would destroy the economy. He is seen alive at the end of the movie, giving a speech apologizing for putting short-term economic benefit ahead of the health of the planet.
  • Drowning Pit: Sam when talking to his parents on the library phone while the room quickly fills with ice-cold water.
  • Establishing Character Moment: In the opening scene, Jack rescues three ice cores in metal poster tubes. The team probably had lots of other ice cores to go with but the point of this scene is to show us that Jack is determined to save things.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: BIG hail. Tornadoes that join together into supertornadoes. Tsunami. Wolves. Frigid cold - Have An Ice Death!
  • Evil Chancellor: Vice President Non-Dick-Cheney.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: The black homeless' dog is seen barking at the on-floating Russian tanker before it even comes into sight and also at the "killer frost line" approaching the upper library room.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Prof. Rapson indignantly forbids his colleagues from using a bottle of single malt to keep the generator going, and the three of them raise a glass as the superstorm descends and the power goes out.
  • Fallen States of America: The US becomes so endangered by a climate change superstorm bringing temperatures down that Americans have to emigrate to Mexico. There is even a speech by the Vice President thanking Mexico for their hospitality.
  • Flyaway Shot: The movie ends with a zoom-out from Earth.
  • Foreboding Fleeing Flock: When Sam, Brian, and Laura arrive in New York, they're puzzled to find countless flocks of squawking birds flying south. Dissolve to another scene at the zoo where all of the animals are raising ruckus, much to the zookeepers' confusion.
  • Foreshadowing: The mammoth at the museum is said to have frozen instantly while grazing. Three minutes later, an British pilot freezes instantly when opening the hatch of his crashed helicopter.
  • From Bad to Worse: It's not enough that the world is plummeting into an ice age and Sam Hall's crew is trapped in a library while the rest of New York City freezes. They've got to deal with escaped wolves from the city zoo, too!
  • Gaia's Vengeance: The metaphorical flavor.
  • Giant Wall of Watery Doom: The monster tsunami hitting Manhattan.
  • Ghost Ship: A Russian tanker in Manhattan with its crew apparently having abandoned ship.
  • Green Aesop / Space Whale Aesop: Although Emmerich was not aiming for a scientifically accurate depiction of climate change, the attitude and actions of Vice President Becker (Captain Ersatz for Dick Cheney) were intended to be a criticism of the Bush Administration's policies. Giving Becker the moment to apologize to the world for being wrong at the end of the movie is likely why he avoided a Karmic Death much earlier.
  • Head-in-the-Sand Management: The President and Vice President.
  • Hollywood Atheist: An interesting aversion late in the movie, when one of the librarians is found clutching an antique Bible to his chest when he starts to doubt his survival. When asked about it, the man admits that he's an atheist, but says that he considers that particular book to be a valuable cultural artifact because it's a Gutenberg Bible—one of the first books ever printed. He rejects religion, but he recognizes the cultural significance of mass printing of Bibles, calling it "the dawn of the Age of Reason".
  • Hollywood Nerd: Gyllenhaal's character is too good looking for a real nerd.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Brian snarking at the decathlon party: "Look at all those nerds."
  • Ignored Expert: Jack Hall. After a freak disaster has just removed Los Angeles from the face of the Earth, the one scientist in the government who's even willing to venture a guess as to what's going on still has to beg for computer time in order to confirm his theory. You would think that after the vaporization of LA, the government would also be interested in confirming the only available theory as to how and why ... but they're just so unreasonable, somehow, and refuse out of nowhere.
  • Improbable Cover: They outrun an oncoming ice storm, and escape it by closing a door.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Blood poisoning somehow gives Laura one of these. It's how Sam figures out she's sick.
  • Intimate Healing: Laura gets Sam out of the wet clothes after his Drowning Pit situation and then embraces him because "if the blood rushes back too fast, your heart could fail". He doesn't mind. She's his crush.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: When talk comes to Nietzsche.
    Redhead: He was a chauvinist pig in love with his sister.
    Guy with glasses: He was not a chauvinist pig.
  • I Warned You: The Vice President gets this served to him after ignoring Jack Hall's warnings of global warming (and likely costing millions of lives by refusing to take any action in time).
  • I Will Find You: Jack mounts an expedition from Washington D.C. to New York during the storm to find his son.
  • Karma Houdini: The Dick Cheney Captain Ersatz Vice President tries to shut down any attempt to handle the crisis intelligently long past the point where he should have learned to shut up. See a Karmic Death coming? Nope. Instead, he gets a Field Promotion when the more reasonable president eschews his fleet of helicopters, drives south in a motorcade onto already packed roads instead, and dies in the storm.
    • After seeing the devastation of the movie, he comes to regret his mistakes.
  • Lecture As Exposition: Jack's lecture at the conference and in front of the president.
  • Let's Get Out of Here: The Weather guy tells the reporter on the phone to "get out of there", right before his Porsche get smashed by a bus.
  • Literal Cliffhanger: In a Pseudo Crisis five minutes into the movie, Jack hangs from an ice cliff, but is saved via Take My Hand. Of course, Plot Armor demanded him to survive.
  • Littlest Cancer Patient: Peter.
  • Logo Joke: The 20th Century Fox logo turns blue and a storm starts to appear in the background.
  • The Load: Downplayed version with Jason, who becomes a load to Jack on their way from Washington D.C. to New York, when he falls and needs to be carried for the rest of the journey.
  • Long Last Look: The president takes one last look around the Oval Office before evacuating to Mexico.
  • Married to the Job:
    • Jack's wife complains that he is never around but only lives for his work at some remote places.
    • Also J.D.'s dad is mentioned to be never around for him.
  • Mexico Saves The Day: Played straight and averted during the film. In a deliberately allegorical scene, Americans trying to flee the disaster are seen crossing the border illegally across the Rio Grande into Mexico, rather than the other way around. Mexico closes its borders to prevent Americans from coming in. A brief snippet of news footage glimpsed during the library scene implies that at the last minute, the White House negotiated permission for all American survivors to cross over into Mexico and the rest of Latin America in exchange for all Latin American financial debt being forgiven. Later in the film, the new President, who had served as Obstructive Bureaucrat to the extreme throughout the entire film, gives an address from the U.S. embassy in Mexico City.
    • Although, how exactly would Latin American debt to the United States and other Western countries still exist after the Northern Hemisphere has been rendered uninhabitable?
  • Monumental Damage: It wouldn't be a Roland Emmerich film without it. Here, the Hollywood Sign gets shredded by a tornado.
  • Monumental Damage Resistance: Pretty much every New York City landmark survives the flooding of the city and the subsequent hard freeze. Roland Emmerich confided that the Statue of Liberty would be turned over by the force of the massive amount of water flowing around it but said he wanted to create a symbol of American values that stood up to the forces.
  • Motor Mouth: Mark Gordon in the Audio Commentary. Not only he talks fast, he also impersonates while talking fast.
  • Never Give the Captain a Straight Answer: When Frank receives a call with news from the flooding of New York City, he turns to Jack and says "Jack ... something's happened in New York." instead of telling right away what happened.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Al Gore and Dick Cheney have counterparts in this film.
  • No Mere Windmill: Type C, where the main character gets ridiculed for a prognosis that is far less lethal than the situation they are really about to face.
  • Novelization: By Whitley Streiber, of Wolfen, Communion, War Day, and The Hunger fame. Incidentally, Streiber was the co-author, with Art Bell, of the book The Coming Global Superstorm, which provided the basis for the movie.
  • Oblivious Janitor Cut: A tornado suddenly and severely damages a building. The janitor doesn't notice until the lights go out. Justified in that he is in a windowless hallway. The janitor then opens the nearest door and sees that half of the building has been sheared off by the wind.
  • Ominous Crack: Loads of examples: the Antarctic ice shelf, the Galleria roof, every window in downtown Manhattan fracturing from the frost...
  • The Oner: The opening shot is the longest CGI generated one-shot, it runs for just over two minutes.
  • One-Woman Wail: Happens as the camera lovingly pans over scenes of meteorological destruction.
  • Outrun the Fireball: A variant, in which they outrun a tsunami and an advancing killer frost line.
  • Police Are Useless: During a city flood, where a cold tsunami is about to enter, a family is trapped inside a cab, banging on the window pleading to be let out in French. Meanwhile, an English-speaking cop stands outside the cab, telling them, "I'm sorry, I can't understand French!"
    • Of course, this makes more sense once a person who speaks French comes to the scene. It isn't that the cop can't understand they want to be let out, it's that he lacks the means to tell them they need to stop pounding on the windows and cover their eyes so he can safely break it and help them out.
    • Also, the same cop leads most of the survivors out of the safe library, in hope of being found by rescue teams. There are no rescue teams. The policeman and the other survivors' frozen bodies are found later on.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: When things get bad, the President is fully willing to listen to Jack and takes his advice. It's fairly clear that if Jack had been able to gone to the President first (and not through the Vice President), things wouldn't have gotten as bad as they had. The general who mentions the concept of "triage" also counts.
  • Red Shirt Reporter: Features a reporter giving up-to-the-minute reports on the tornadoes rampaging through downtown Los Angeles. He ends up flattened by flying debris at the exact moment that he looks at the camera instead of his surroundings, of course.
  • Romantic False Lead: J.D. is initially set up as one and seems to be getting in the way of Sam getting with Laura. However, this is suddenly dropped not long afterwards, and J.D. switches to being a Shipper on Deck for them.
  • Run for the Border: Type B instance, involves entire national populations doing this.
  • Savage Wolves: A pack of wolves that escaped from the zoo menace Sam and his mates on the Russian ship.
  • Scenery Gorn: Emmerich pays particular attention to the destruction of Los Angeles by a tornado.
  • Script Wank: Blatant in the finale, where the Vice President announces publicly how wrong humanity was to abuse petroleum.
  • Secret Stab Wound: To add drama, Laura keeps quite about her cut wound so nobody knew she was actually suffering from blood poisoning.
  • Snowed-In: The entire Northern hemisphere.
  • Snow Means Death: Some survivors have fallen asleep outside and froze to death while sleeping. That's what you get for ignoring the expert.
  • So Much for Stealth: When Sam tries to sneak behind the wolves on the Ghost Ship, he steps on a piece of glass. The noise makes his plan go out of the window.
  • Soul Brotha: Luther, the Black beggar with the dog. Cool, wise, self-assured, never panics and also he speaks in a suspiciously cultured and polite way, like he is far better educated than the usual homeless person.
    • This is because in a Deleted Scene, he mentions actually being a successful businessman, working in a nice office and everything. He lost his job because he was caught fooling around with various different secretaries.
  • Spreading Disaster Map Graphic: In a low-tech variant, the climatologist-hero uses a map of the continental U.S. to convey the scope of the danger, drawing a horizontal line across it and proclaiming that everywhere below it must be evacuated south: there's no realistic hope of saving people north of that line.
    • Also, the weather prognostication maps that show the three superstorms expanding to cover all three northern continents.
  • Straw Character: The film features hopelessly greedy Republican strawmen in denial over the imminent climate disasters.
  • Strawman Political: Everything, everywhere, that happens at any point in the entire movie.
  • Sunken City: New York
  • Surveillance Station Slacker: The aforementioned Scotland shack full of Brits. The "What weather? It's LA" guy, too.
  • Take My Hand: How Jack's two fellow scientists save him from his Literal Cliffhanger in the opening scene.
  • Those Two Guys: A male-female version with the two assistant librarians, especially when they start to banter over certain reading material.
  • Throw-Away Country: All of Europe freezes over except Spain and Portugal. Maybe the old European saying "Africa starts at the Pyrenees" was right after all.
    • Don't forget Japan getting a patented Death from Above in the form of MASSIVE hail.
  • Teen Genius: Also, a bad case of The Worm Guy.
  • Title In: All major locations are introduced with on-screen text.
  • Token Trio: Sam (white guy), Laura (white girl as his Designated Love Interest) and Brian (Black and Nerdy). Though they get joined by another white guy (a downplayed Romantic False Lead).
  • Too Dumb to Live: Several characters die to sheer lack of common sense. Two that particularly stand out are the helicopter pilot escorting the British Royal Family, who notices his instruments beginning to freezing over and decides to open the door, as well as the policeman who leads half the survivors to their death, trying to find non-existent rescue teams.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Believe it or not, but in 1912, an Australian adventurer and two of his colleagues traveled to the North Pole as a part of the Australasian Expedition. One fell down a crevasse with half of their supplies, and the other one fell ill and died after Mawson personally pulled him along. Mawson was the only one to survive. In the movie, the protagonist and his two friends experience a nearly identical fate when they travel to the Big Apple Sauce (one breaks through the glass roof of a mall and falls to his death and the other one falls ill for the protagonist to carry him around). In the movie, however, casualty two actually recovers.
  • Wait Here: When Jack announces to his comrades that he plans to get to New York to save his son, his two fellow scientists won't let him go alone.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The head librarian disappears, with no explanation in the end of the movie... unless she was the only one in the library who didn't survive.
    • J.D's little brother. They leave J.D's house to go and get him, but they get trapped in the library, and he's never mentioned again.
    • It becomes reversed for the French woman and her child: they disappear completely after NYPD start evacuating people from the library, but then they suddenly reappear in the end when Jack and Jason finally make it to the library.
    • The Scottish scientist around Prof. Rapson are not mentioned again after they gave their last toast.
  • Wisdom from the Gutter: The homeless man is teaching J.D. to use paper to insulate himself from the cold.