Acrophobic Bird: Justified in that Gordon just got his pilot's license and can barely fly. Barely fly upward, that is. He does amazingly well at dodging buildings and debris, something even an experienced pilot would have trouble with.
It happens in two instances, the second one has Gordon pair up with an experienced Russian pilot, flying a giant Antonov plane. In all of these instances, the runway is disintegrating, but with the Antonov, they actually run out of runway before reaching liftoff speed.
Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Multiple, particularly the scene in Air Force One between Adrian and Laura, what's left of Washington DC and the President, and the scenes involving Jackson and his family in Yuri's plane.
Aloha Hawaii: The characters planned to stop in Honolulu to refuel. It, and the rest of O'ahu, is completely covered in lava.
Apocalypse How: Judging by the sight of huge chunks of Los Angeles getting ripped out of the ground, this is likely to be a Class 2 at the very least. We look at about Class 3b, maybe Class 4, depending on the severity of volcanism and floods. The end of the film implies only Class 1 - the vast majority of humans are dead, but civilization perseveres.
Applied Phlebotinum: The destruction of the Earth is caused by the heating of its core, caused by excess neutrinos being emitted by the Sun. However, since neutrinos almost never interact with matter, these are neutrinos that are "mutating into some other subatomic particle," presumably ones that can interact with matter more often. Why these new particles don't interact with the Earth's surface is unclear. Lampshaded when Adrian, listening about the neutrinos, simply declares "That's impossible". He's right.
Artistic License - Geology: Most of the film operates under this, particularly the depiction the eruption of the Yellowstone Supervolcano. Except for Gordon, who raises his hand very calmly to his eyes in reaction to the brightness, the other protagonist's barely react to the eruption and come out completely unscathed. No-one goes deaf from the sound of the eruption, while the shockwave throws Charlie a couple of feet backwards, despite the trees all around him being uprooted in their thousands. Finally the pyroclastic flow slows down to let the plane time to escape unharmed, while ignoring convection not to boil them alive and after emerging from the ash cloud, the plane isn't even dirty.
Badass: Anybody who faces their death and doesn't run.
The Lama Rinpoche. His response to a tidal wave going to drown his ass is to ring a bell.
Harry and the President stick out prominently, who stay behind to comfort non-Ark survivors.
Broken Aesop: Dr. Adrian Helmsley gives a rousing speech aboard one of the Arks on the importance of humanity looking out for one another and convinces the captain to open the gates, allowing more people in. While well-intentioned, this decision indirectly results in the Diabolus ex Machina offings of Gordon and Tamara via the ship flooding.
Then again, if Dr Adrian didn't persuade the captain to open the gates, HUNDREDS MORE PEOPLE WOULD HAVE DIED (the passengers who paid to be on the Arks and the builders).
California Collapse: Massive earthquakes tear up the California coastline, open up a giant canyon, then send the remains slipping down into the sea.
Chekhov's Gunman: Adrian's father is shown boarding a cruise ship early in the film, and he mentions that he has a son he stays in touch with. It isn't clear until later in the film that Adrian is his son.
Christianity is Catholic: Sasha makes the sign of the cross in the Catholic way (forehead - chest - left shoulder - right shoulder), instead of the Orthodox way (forehead - chest - right shoulder - left shoulder) — 97% of Russian Christians are Orthodox.
Comedy of Remarriage: Double Subverted. Looks like they're going to play it straight as Kate and Gordon seem to be drifting apart then, then subverted as it looks like they're going to work things out, then cruelly forced back into played straight as Gordon is killed in the gears of the Ark while Jackson looks on, unable to save him.
Conspiracy Theorist: Charlie Frost again. Of course, he is right about what's happening, and sets into motion the race to get to the Ark. He is wrong on one thing: the Arks aren't spaceships to get completely off the planet, just super-armored carriers.
Contrived Coincidence: The various ways in which Jackson and his family meet up with the other groups in the story and manage to get on the Arks. It's lampshaded when the geological expert sees Jackson's family get aboard the Ark - he wonders how they managed to get on...
Also of note are the sheer number of situations where the characters "just barely" escape death, such as a building "nearly" falling onto their plane.
Convection Schmonvection: The movie seems to forget that in pyroclastic flows, the heat kills people long before the ash cloud touches them. Of course, they do stay barely ahead of the flow itself. While that's already testing of the Suspension of Disbelief, if they were all the way in the cloud, they'd be dead. They do very briefly get caught inside of the flow in an airplane, which makes even less sense, since airplanes generally don't run well in clouds of superheated ash. Bizarrely, the film then starts paying attention to the laws of physics again, just in time for said pyroclastic flow to utterly disintegrate Las Vegas airport (and the city itself).
Cool Boats: The Arkships. And the Antonov An-225, dubbed "Antonov 500" in the film, makes a pretty Cool Plane too.
Noah: Now that's a big plane.
Yuri:(smiling proudly) It's Russian. note It's technically (Soviet) Ukrainian, as only one model exists. An-225 is a one-off (essentially a stretched An-124 Ruslan) built to carry the Buran shuttle in mid-80'es. There's a lot of talks about series production (or completing the second airframe, which was never finished), but as Antonov design bureau lacks production facilities and must rely on Russian plants, which are still in a pretty bad shape, nothing has come of it as of now.
Immediately after scenes of wanton destruction, the cruise ship musicians Harry and Tony sing a song with the lyrics "It's not the end of the world/It's only the end of this song."
The earthquakes have a nice sense of this too. One strikes just after the Governor of California says "the worst is over." Even better, Gordon says to Kate that 'there is something pulling us apart'... and a fissure promptly opens between them.
There's also a massive example at the end: It's stated that the African continent has risen after the crust displacement, and that it likely never flooded. This means that the world's poorest continent was the one to receive the least devastation, since it only got hit by the earthquakes. The Captain even remarks that's why that region has a place called Cape of Good Hope, where all Arks head to after the tidal waves subside.
Eureka Moment: Overlaps with Oh Crap with Jackson Curtis. After taking Karpov's kids to the airport, one of them tells our hero that he will die while they will survive the imminent apocalypse in a ship. That, and the fact that Charlie was right.
The Everyman: Jackson Curtis, a down-on-his-luck divorced writer working as a limo driver to pay the bills.
Exact Time to Failure: The scientists' estimates about when the tidal waves are expected to reach the location of the Ark ships. Semi-justified in that you can calculate the time it'll take for a wave to reach the Ark, but as it's flowing over a massive landmass, it should be an estimate.
Subverted and Lampshaded with the actual planetary meltdown, which jumps itself up by six months and causes all the precise survival plans to collapse.
Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Though saying "evil" is a bit strong Yuri sacrifices his life so one of his sons can survive, throwing them onto the Ark's walkway and hurling himself off a cliff with the momentum.
British Royal Family: a quick shot as they are loading the Arks shows an elderly well-dressed woman in a purple coat with Corgis, undoubtedly Queen Elizabeth II (and her family.)
The inspirational black president, though this may just be a latter-day example of Bald Black Leader Guy.
Face Death with Dignity: Satnam and his family, knowing full well that they don't stand a chance in hell of escaping the oncoming tsunami, spend their final moments embracing each other as the others around them panic. Various other examples are also seen, combined with some of the facing the bullets one liners mentioned below.
Foreshadowing: In the beginning of the movie, a child has an accident with a toy boat in a puddle. That toy boat is a scale model of the SS United States
Genre Savvy: "When they tell you not to panic, that's when you run!"
The Glasses Come Off: Played for Laughs as Noah tries on a pair of oversized sunglasses, then whips them off dramatically to share a message from Kate with Jackson: "She wants us to come home!"
Government Conspiracy: The governments of the world knew beforehand, but didn't tell anyone even after it started, assassinating everyone who tried to tell people the truth, except for obvious nutjobs like Charlie Frost. Explained as being the only way they could build any Arks without the place being swarmed by refugees, terrorists, renegade army units, etc. that would jeopardize any humans surviving.
The Great Flood: And that's after the land-shattering earthquakes and volcanoes.
Heroic Sacrifice: Yuri throws one of his children to safety, the momentum of which hurtles him to his death. and Sasha stays in the plane in order to give the others a chance to escape. Heck, even Tamara ensures her dog is safe but is fatally trapped herself.
The Vice President suffers a similar fate to the First Lady in Independence Day, going down in a helicopter trying to escape an area.
Ignored Expert: Played straight for about ten seconds as Anheuser blows a frantic Adrian off, then subverted as he actually takes the young scientist seriously after flipping through his manuscript. To a lesser degree, Jackson. He buys into Charlie's theories after seeing Yuri's preparations for the Ark, and when trying to convince Kate, she does not believe him until California begins breaking up beneath her feet.
I Need a Freaking Drink: Upon learning that the world is about to end Harry orders a double. Tony and a waiter are both shocked, as he hasn't touched alcohol in 25 years.
Infant Immortality: Averted with Tony and Satnam's families, along with a lot of other off-screen child deaths.
Informed Flaw: Gordon is an amateur pilot and claims to have had only a few flying lessons, but performs impressive feats of stunt piloting during the escape from California. He is, of course, improvising and is helped along by an actual pilot on the Russian plane.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Gordon, who at first appears to just be a toolish plastic surgeon. The kids love him (so we know he can't be all bad) but what really shows his better side is finding out he tried to talk Tamara out of getting plastic surgery. Also Yuri. While Yuri's still a asshole for leaving Tamara, he does manage to get his children on board Ark 4 before dying a horrible death.
Karma Houdini: Carl Anheuser. When the wave reaches the Arks, he orders them to abandon the people who paid to be on the Arks and the builders to die in the tsunami, not to mention the majority of the human race. He also planned only to save world leaders along with the wealthy social elite while leaving everyone else to die, including THE WORKERS WHO BUILT THE ARK. Adrian and Laura call him out on a few things, but he doesn't even get a Shut Up, Hannibal!.
The kid is named Noah and is the reason Ark 04 didn't sink.
Boorish President-by-Default Carl Anheuser, who is first seen in the movie partying and ignoring warning signs of dangerous happenings-to-be.
Men Act, Women Are: The female characters don't really do a whole lot. They comfort the children, sometimes. And the President's daughter exists solely to be Adrian's Love Interest. Notable especially in the plane sequences, where only Yuri and Jackson ever go up to see what's happening.
The governor of California is never named, but has a strong Austrian accent, and apparently used to be an actor.
Also the President is black (instead of biracial) though considerably different in background.
And Germany's Chancellor is female.
Yuri Karpov looks suspiciously similar in appearance and hairstyle to Shabtay Kalmanovich, a recently murdered oligarch known for his patronage of sporting events. Russian boxer Zultan seems to be a stand-in for Sultan Ibragimov. And, for some weird reason, the Russian president is a look-alike of geriatric Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.
Obstructive Bureaucrat: One of the few moments where this movie decides to be original is subverting this trope with Carl Anheuser. Initially he has all tell-tale signs of a stereotypical self-absorbed, short-sighted government official who is there to ignore Adrian's warning, but when Adrian's outburst prompts him to actually look into the latter's report, he recognizes instantly that this matter should not be red-taped.
Oh Crap: Every few minutes, as befits the end of the world
Outrun the Fireball: Or outrun the earthquake, supervolcano and tidal wave. Luckily the Earth is sufficiently polite to wait for the protagonists to reach a car, plane and ark to escape to catastrophe. Not so much for everyone else.
Pair the Spares: Subverted. It looks like Gordon and Tamara will get together but they both die instead.
Pet the Dog: Yuri is a massive Smug Snake throughout the entire film, abandoning the rest of the party, including his girlfriend and the surviving pilot who helped save his life, in the Himalayas, but selflessly gives his life to save his sons.
Artistic License - Physics: The Earth is being destroyed because solar neutrinos are "mutating" into a form that heats the interior of the Earth like a microwave oven. In reality, solar neutrinos do mutate — they change between electron, muon, and tau flavors during their travels in a process called neutrino oscillation. However, none of these neutrino flavors is capable of interacting with the Earth's interior.
The Yellowstone eruption. It manages an explosion probably measured in gigatons without any significant blast overpressure. Trees are flattened, but it abates within a mere mile or two - helpfully before obliterating all the major characters. Geologists say that in an eruption of that magnitude, anyone close enough to see it with the naked eye would not survive. It does at least portray realistically the actually range the flow could reach, going all the way to Las Vegas.
At the beginning of the movie, after Jackson, Noah, and Lucy sneak into the restricted area of Yellowstone, Noah asks fairly randomly "Haven't you seen the signs?" It takes place just long enough after the signs have been shown that it seems out of place and almost like a warning.
The Cristo Redentor crumbles spectacularly. See the Sistine Chapel example below.
The Arks. They even carry animals.
The Sistine Chapel crumbles and is destroyed. Guess where the ceiling splits? The crack separates Adam's finger from God's finger..
Also, just afterwards, the masses praying there are crushed by the dome when it topples from St. Peter's Square.
Jackson Curtis' son is named "Noah," and he later rescues Ark 4 from disaster.
At the end the human race all goes back to Africa, where it started out in the first place.
The White House getting destroyed by the USS John F Kennedy.
Jackson: "I'm on my way toward you/hurtling toward you as we speak!"
Jackson's daughter and her obsession with fun hats.
Played tragically by all the desperate farewell phone calls cut short by impacting disasters.
The various references to Wisconsin throughout the film; first from an old lady at the beginning who regrets moving from there, it becoming the new location of the South Pole at the end of the film, as well as being mentioned in the last sentence of Jackson's novel.
Russian Guy Suffers Most: All Russian characters who are not children, dogs, or politicians bite the dust sooner or later.
Most of the planet. As seen at the top of the page, Emmerich pays particular attention to the destruction of Los Angeles. From all the downtown skyscrapers toppling, massive cracks opening, and chunks of landscape sliding into the sea as seen in the poster above and trailer.
Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Gordon tries his best to be a good stepfather to Jackson's children, as well as getting on well with Jackson himself, and he manages to use his minimal flying experience to pilot several drastically different aircraft, and is never anything less than cooperative with the other characters. His reward is death and Jackson's family later reuniting.
Spreading Disaster Map Graphic: Towards the end, on-screen graphics in the ark control room depict the massive waves closing in Asia and other continents.
Stealth Hi/Bye: Both of Jackson's kids appear to have perfected the art of teleportation. In two separate screens he explicitly tells them to stay put, and with no indication the kid have moved they abruptly appear next to him a few scenes later.
Empire Magazine's review includes this response to Emmerich's "wilfully ignoring science to keep the plot boiling": "For future reference, sudden continental drift probably will affect your cellphone reception." And even if it doesn't, good luck getting through when literally the whole world is trying to call someone.
A cell phone that gets reception from inside a metal ship buried under the Himalayas off in an undeveloped, rural corner of Tibet. After it has been explicitly stated that the apocalypse has knocked out nearly all communications.
Super Drowning Skills: Played straight with Tamara, who gets sealed in a room rapidly filling with water.
Take That: A very lazy shot at Arnold Schwarzenegger ("He's an actor - he's reading from a script!"). There is a veritable myriad of take-thats in the film, but there's so many that it's kind of hard to pinpoint them all. Western civilization? Religion? Rich people? Russians?
Take That, Critics!: A subtle one can be found in the adoration John Cusack's character's Sci-Fi book gets. In the movie, the book sells barely a dozen copies because critics found its ridiculously Cosy Catastrophe view of the world to be insufferable and unrealistic, yet major characters (the president included!) find it be a source of great inspiration. Director Roland Emmerich also made The Day After Tomorrow, which was criticized for being offensively preachy and silly in the levels of Cosy Catastrophe it brought to the screen.
Talking Is a Free Action: Characters ramble on for minutes without any noticeable difference between the time they got started and the time they finished, usually minutes later. Standouts include Adrian's speech on the Ark and Jackson getting ready to unplug the gears.
Throwaway Country: Sometimes played straight, sometimes subverted - e.g., India and China are given considerable focus beyond being nature's Chew Toy. Canada possibly fits this trope too. The world leaders conference at the beginning is held in British Columbia, and Canada is mentioned as having survivors on board one of the Arks.
Viewer-Friendly Interface: Both played straight (the computers on the arks with 3D, real-time representations of the gears for the doors) and averted (the scientist who discovers the end is near uses Vista, and everyone else who's not an Ark operator).