In the beginning, there is an attempt to document global warming by removing an ice core from the Antarctic. This is made considerably more difficult when the ice shelf collapses under the scientists involved.A climate summit is held in India. The American vice-president (who may not be named "Dick Cheney", but have no doubt of his identity) announces nothing needs to be done. When the conference ends, it is snowing. (Normally, that region of India has a temperature of about 100° F note 38 °C at the time of year implied in the movie).The lead scientist involved in the Antarctic expedition, Jack Hall, is considered kooky because he is a paleoclimatologist. He doesn't get along with authorities, and his relationship with his equally genius son could be better.The genius son Sam Hall is going to NYC for a knowledge decathlon and to try to bond with the girl he joined the knowledge decathlon team for. He's afraid of flying, and this flight doesn't go smoothly. It is one of the last flights at NYC's latitude that goes at all.In Scotland, another group of scientists is measuring ocean temperatures in the North Atlantic. They aren't paying incredibly close attention when things first go wrong — hey, Manchester United are playing!note (Be fair - Celtic are playing Man U, and HOLDING THEIR OWN... that's the most improbable thing in this movie of very improbable things) One of them intends to join his family for a holiday — eventually.After tornadoes hit LA, America takes this weather thing seriously. Only one weather model seems to have any real predictive power. Unfortunately, it was made by the paleoclimatologist to deal with weather patterns at the start of the last ice age, and it wasn't supposed to run anywhere near as fast as the current weather system is running.Yes. Global warming has triggered an instant Ice Age. The Disaster Movie equivalent of hilarity ensues.Not to be confused with The Day After.
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 - Law: Under National Aeronautics and Space Act, Tokada won't be the only researcher NASA sent out.
Audible Sharpness: When the frost covers the helicopters and they fall to the ground, their frozen propellers do this.
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.
Billing Displacement: During the end titles, many incredibly minor, one-scene characters (like the delegates at the Global Conference in India) are listed above much of the movie's supporting characters who actually serve purpose to the story.
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." )
Break the Haughty: The Cheney Expy 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 an option!
British Royal Family: The helicopters on their way to rescue them from Balmoral hit a superstorm eye, froze, and crashed.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Logo Joke: The 20th Century Fox logo turns blue and a storm starts to appear in the background.
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.
Ominous Crack: Loads of examples: the Antarctic ice shelf, the Galleria roof, every window in downtown Manhattan fracturing from the frost...
Outrun the Fireball: Inverted by outrunning a tsunami and outrunning 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.
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.
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.
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.