Glen Canyon, Arizona, The Present Day. Wayne Grey (Seann William Scott), practicing at night in the desert for his upcoming firefighter entrance exam, witnesses the impact of a meteor throw his truck 200 feet in the air and crash down. The next day, biology teacher Dr. Ira Kane (David Duchovny) and geology teacher Harry Block (Orlando Jones) from Glen Canyon Community College manage to get to the meteor, which has crash-landed at the bottom of a system of underground caverns. By taking a sample, they discover a slimy blue fluid coming out of the meteor.
A little later, Ira finds out that myriad single-celled life-forms dwell in the fluid, evolve at an incredible rate, even while he's watching. What first seems like a sure ticket to Sweden for the Nobel Prize soon develops into a nightmare: by evolving and adapting at that unbelievably fast rate, the aliens start spreading out, killing people, and the military — led by General Woodman (Ted Levine), who's accompanied by epidemiologist Dr. Allison Reed (Julianne Moore) — comes in. Now it all comes down to what Darwin so rightfully stated: Survival of the fittest...
It gave rise to a short-lived animated series, Alienators: Evolution Continues.
Evolution contains examples of:
- Actor Allusion: Ira doesn't trust government types because "I know these people." In-universe, he knows because he's an ex-army colonel. However, David Duchovny's previous role as Agent Fox Mulder is a notorious Conspiracy Theorist. This is especially notable because it wasn't on purpose; the director had never seen The X-Files. But those making the trailer evidently did, as it's used in quite a few.
- Adaptive Ability: Thanks to thousands of years of evolution artificially sped up by the energy reaction from the meteor, the organisms from the meteorite spit out creatures that become increasingly more resilient to oxygen - which is normally lethal to the organisms.
- Alien Invasion: Via superior adaptability, the aliens will take over the North American continent within months.
- Aliens in Cardiff: The movie takes place around Glen Canyon and Lake Powell, near the Arizona/Utah border. The town in the movie is usually just referred to as "Glen Canyon" as well, but is actually the small real-life town of Page, Arizona.
- Apocalypse How: Class 3 - the aliens threaten to take over the planet through explosive breeding, driving other species to extinction.
- Artistic License Biology:
- The earlier aliens look pretty weird, but there's some pretty weird stuff in Earth's evolutionary history too; some of the Burgess Shale critters are pretty strange in their own right.
- The aliens are supposed to be "nitrogen-based lifeforms." As anyone with a background in chemistry could tell you, this is extremely unlikely. However, they are theoretically entirely impossible.
- Artistic License Chemistry: There are two takes on this based on the discovery of the alien's weakness.
- The heroes figure out the weakness of the nitrogen-based aliens by comparing arbitrary patterns on the Periodic Table of Elements. "Hmm, well, Arsenic is the weakness of carbon-based life-forms, and Arsenic is two down and one across from Carbon. So that means that the weakness of the nitrogen-based life-forms must also be two down and one across!" Of course, because this is a comedy film, the logic is perfectly sound.
- In a sense, it's not as crazy as it sounds — the periodic table isn't arbitrary, its organization reflects properties of the elements in the table, so the geometric relationship between elements as displayed on the table can be relevant to their chemical relationship in reality. The selenium sulphide in the shampoo is poisonous to earlier phases of alien life because they are indicated (by the stink in the cave and the fly inside Block) to incorporate hydrogen sulfide in their metabolism.
- Asshole Victim: Wayne's boss, who is eaten by an alien when he is about to have sex with a woman on a golf course.Wayne: (trying to suppress a grin) "Well, uh... that's too bad."
- He later add, "That doesn't make it right," but you can see him still trying to suppress a smirk.
- Also, the shoplifting teen girl in the mall, who gets attacked by one of the pterodactyl creatures, although she survives. Her asshole status is mitigated by her immediate apology afterwards.
- Ass Shove:
Ira: GIMME BACK MY FRIEND, YOU BIG SPHINCTER!Harry: IT'S HOR-R-R-RIBLE IN HERE!
- They kill the ultimate alien with a shampoo enema administered via fire hose. Though it sucks Harry into its ass for at least a minute before it dies.
- Harry himself has an alien extracted from his body - rectally.
- Big "NO!": Played for laughs during the "alien extraction" scene:Dr. Paulson: Maybe we can catch it in his colon.Nurse Tate: How are you going in?Dr. Paulson: (dramatically) Rectally.Harry: (in a VERY high-pitched squeal) Nooooooo!
- Bigger Is Better: One of the organisms, in response to being napalmed, becomes a HUGE amoeba-thing with an anus. This becomes the superior life form that kills/absorbs the other aliens
- Bizarre Alien Reproduction: The dying "bird" gives birth by coughing up a membranous sac with a juvenile inside.
- Black Dude Dies First: The Trope Namer, though it is almost immediately defied.
- Bloodless Carnage: A lot of people are attacked and mauled by the evolving life-forms, with little mess to show for it. A flying raptor takes several slugs at point-blank range, and there's STILL no gore.
- Brick Joke: Near the beginning, Nadine mentions that her ambition is to be Miss Arizona. At the end, she can be seen in the background wearing a "Miss Arizona" sash.
- Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": For some reason, the lead characters refuse to call the obviously dragon/raptor-looking flying aliens that, and instead insist on calling them "birds." Maybe it's a case of Not Using the "Z" Word, and they're not shown to be capable of breathing fire either.Earlier models of the dragon/raptor actually show it to look a lot more like a featherless oviraptor. Now that would have been weird. Also, perhaps models weren't complete until after the live-action filming. That would also explain why the creature that looks like a snub-nosed seal is mistaken for a dog.
- Came from the Sky: The aliens came to earth from a meteor.
- Can't Get Away with Nuthin': In one scene, a shoplifter is wearing her stolen clothes under her already-worn ones. As she comes out of the dressing room, she's snatched away by the flying raptor. Once she's rescued, she vows never to shoplift again to a somewhat confused Harry. It's actually fortunate for her she was wearing the layers, as without them, the claws of the bird thing could have badly hurt her.
- Chekhov's Gunmen: Deke and Danny are introduced on a The Ditz joke. They are the key to finding a sufficient supply of the alien's weakness in the climax.
- Dumbass Has a Point: The two biggest idiots in Ira's class end up saving the day in the end by point out that Head and Shoulders shampoo has selenium in it.
- Everything's Better with Monkeys: Shortly after the alien life-forms reach a simian stage of evolution, they get napalmed. hen they are crushed by one cell. These are the fastest and most violent things to come out of the ecosystem, in the short time they're seen before they're crushed.
- Eureka Moment: Two of these happen; one leads to the discovery that fire makes the beings grow faster, while the other leads to the discovery that selenium kills them. Both are the products of incredibly dodgy science.
- Evolutionary Levels: Played with. In fact, the later stages of the habitat spawn dinosaur-like creatures and apes. But the last creature to appear is a nigh-unkillable (well, except for the occasional enema) amoeba-like creature. This is lampshaded in the movie.
- The director's commentary explains that the final evolution was supposed to be an Ultimate Life Form, evolved beyond primates, beyond humans. The problem was that it wasn't "big" enough; so they replaced it with an amoeba.
- Everything Trying to Kill You: Oddly enough averted, given the type of movie it was. When Ira and Harry go down into the underground alien world, they note that "everything down here is food for something else; let's try to stay off the menu". Yet almost none of the creatures try to harm them. There was a carnivorous tree, but really the only one to go after anyone was that big mosquito.
- Explosive BreederNadine: Um, Professor, the little wiggly worm things in there are breaking.
Ira: It's not breaking, it's splitting. It's mitosis. It's how they reproduce.
Harry: No sex?
Ira: No time for sex.
- Forgotten Fallen Friend: Nobody seems to care much about Lieutenant Cryer being taken away by the fuzzy no-nosed chimps. He isn't mentioned and no attempt is made by Woodman to rescue him.
- Fun T-Shirt: Allison's T-shirt with the periodic table on back leads to one of the eureka moments referenced above.
- Genre Savvy: Harry knows the black guy dies first in horror/alien films.
- Giant Flyer: The big dragon/raptor thing that gets loose in the mall. Wayne lures it back with his skills at karaoke, which enrages it.
- Groin Attack:
- Wayne suffers one, courtesy of his fire hose falling and hitting him right in the crotch during his exam.
- The Governor threatens to send the military guys who botched containment to state prison "with the crotch-biters".
- Grotesque Cute: The dog-like alien a club member finds in a house, slowly dying of asphyxiation, with a sad expression. When one of them tries to pet it, it unleashes its defense mechanism: A really ill-tempered tongue with a beak. It bites one of them on the hand before it dies.
- "Have a Nice Day" Smile: The movie poster features one of these with three eyes. It is also used for the movie's Viral Marketing, where the three-eyed smiley began appearing all over New York City in the months prior to the film's release, much like the Ghostbusters "Coming To Save the World" poster was before that film's release.
- A Head at Each End: Sported by one of the first critters Ira and Harry encounter in the cavern's "bug period". Harry doesn't know if it is "coming or going".
- Heroes Want Redheads: Harry insists this of Ira in regards to Allison. It turns out to be true.
- Heroic Wannabe: Wayne wants desperately to be a firefighter or some other type of hero to get girls.
- Hidden Depths: Deke and Danny are smarter than they appear, at least in regards to their grooming practices.
- Hollywood Evolution: "Evolution" in this movie depicted as the rapid development of single-celled organisms instead of more and more complex ones. At the end, it is noted that the giant amoeba is still considered "evolution" over the apes and such because evolution is the ability to survive.
- Ignored Expert: Ira tries to warn Woodman that napalming the aliens may be a really bad idea. He turns out to be right.
- The Immodest Orgasm: Harry's mocking impressions of what he imagines Allison's sex noises to sound like.
- Instant Awesome: Just Add Dragons!: The dragony Giant Flyer.
- Jerk Ass: General Woodman and his fellow army officers are rude, arrogant, sexist and dismissive of the science experts.
- Killer Space Monkey: Literally comes in the form of three-eyed, no-nose, ape-like beings that are one of the last to breach the habitat seal.
- Kill It with Fire: The military decided to burn the entire alien habitat with napalm. This backfires because fire accelerates their evolutionary process.
- Let Us Never Speak of This Again: After Harry's mishap with the alien sphincter, he demands that Ira tell nobody of what happened.
- Life-or-Limb Decision: When Harry finds himself with an alien fly burrowing into his leg, he refuses to let the doctors amputate his leg until he hears that it's headed for his testicles. Then they decide to Take a Third Option and remove it rectally. That poor guy.
- Mad Scientist: Ira did some very nasty things with an anthrax vaccine. Unfortunately, he tested it on people who were equipped with really large guns.
- Made of Explodium: The final alien creature, after receiving an enema of anti-dandruff shampoo, explodes.
- Miracle-Gro Monster: Fire makes the aliens grow faster. It is why napalm should not be used as a Kaiju attack Band-Aid.
- Multipurpose Tongue: One creature that looks kind of like a green pig has a beaked creature for a tongue. It is used as a weapon.
- Must Not Die a Virgin: A girl holding an "I can't die as a virgin" sign can be seen during the Arizona evacuation party.
- Never Live It Down: The Kane Madness is an In-Universe example. An anthrax vaccine that did immunize people against anthrax...at the cost of a month of debilitating stomach cramps, severe diarrhea, memory loss, partial facial paralysis, temporary blindness, drooling, bleeding gums, erectile dysfunction, uncontrollable flatulence...
- Non-Malicious Monster: The aliens are hostile all right, but they're not evil. They are just lost and confused on a strange planet. They're also hungry.
- Not Really a Birth Scene: When the doctors have to get the alien insect that cut its way into Harry's body by going in through the colon and pulling it out, and the scene plays out in this way.
- Nuke 'em: Offered as a solution to the alien problem, but the military decides to use napalm instead. Considering what napalm eventually does to the alien lifeforms, one shudders to think what would have happened if the military had taken the nuclear option.
- One-Handed Shotgun Pump: Ira, Harry and Wayne do this after killing the first oxygen-tolerant alien. It is presented as a post-victory swagger rather than something to do in actual combat.
- Orifice Evacuation:[Dr. Paulson is going to pull the alien bug out through Harry's rectum]
Nurse Tate: I'll get the lubricant...
Dr. Paulson: No time for lubricant!
Harry: There's ALWAYS time for lubricant!
- Our Dragons Are Different: Alien predators resembling dragons are prominently featured, though the characters prefer to call them "birds." And they reproduce by regurgitating.
- Prison Rape: Defied by the Governor when he's lashing out at the military for screwing up containment. He threatens to send them all to prison."And not that cushy federal place with the loose jumpsuits. State prison! With the crotch-biters!"
- Product Placement: Subverted. Head & Shoulder's dandruff-killing formula also happens to kill aliens. This is parodied after the end of the movie, where the actors do a cliched commercial with forced smiles. And Harry holding his bottle backwards. The commercial was Ivan Reitman's son's idea. However, according to Reitman, the production wasn't paid for product placement by P&G, and that the bottles shown were all acquired by the production through purchase.
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: We have an ex-colonel, a women's volleyball coach, a wanna-be fireman and a fiery redhead fighting off an alien invasion,
- Sarcasm Failure: As the guys watch an alien give birth to a newborn-which is able to thrive in the Earth's atmosphere—all Harry Block can do is shrug and say, "Mazel Tov! It's a boy!"
- Sequel Hook: Not all the aliens were killed. This leads into the sequel series.
- Take a long look at the head of the dragony thing. It closely resembles the head of the creature from The Giant Claw.
- Also, one of the bird calls that Wayne tries is "Aww-aww, ee-ee, tukki tukki!" from George of the Jungle.
- The heroes discover that selenium is toxic to the nitrogen-based alien lifeforms. Selenium was also one of the materials used by the evil architect Ivo Shandor to build 55 Central Park West (Dana Barrett's apartment building) in Ghostbusters (1984).
- Smart Ball: The two guys who failed biology forever by confusing a prison cell with a biological cell? They help save the day.
- Spreading Disaster Map Graphic: A map is used to show how the highly-adaptive alien lifeforms will own the United States in about a month from when they start to expand from the impact site in Glen Canyon.
- Starfish Aliens: While the later aliens resemble dragons, apes and giant single-celled monstrosities respectively, the aliens earlier in the animated series look really odd by Earth standards. Sketches of some storyboards show even more strange aliens, including trees with metallic scales (possibly based on Earth's Lepidodendron?).
- Small Name, Big Ego: It's downplayed here with Harry. He is well-aware that he's not on the same-level (scientifically) as Ira or Allison, but that doesn't stop him from milking what he does know for all it's worth.
- Spiritual Successor: To the first two Ghostbusters films. Dan Aykroyd was unable to get his co-stars to do Ghostbusters III, so Evolution was born.
- Those Two Guys: Deke and Danny are a pair of fat idiots who are used for comedy [ except for one scene.
- Throw the Dog a Bone: Deke and Danny handed in the worst science paper ever, copied off each other to boot. They are responsible for an Eureka Moment.Ira Kane: "You just earned your A's!"
- Troperiffic: The movie borrows tropes from any number of cheesy 1950s sci-fi films.
- Weaksauce Weakness: The aliens are weak to Selenium but this is not what counts; what counts is that the only way to get enough of the stuff is to empty out dozens of bottles of Shampoo..
- White and Grey Morality: While our heroes, Ira Kane, Harry Block, and Wayne Grey, are a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits, they're still pretty decent people who nonetheless save the planet from certain destruction. The military indeed play an antagonistic role, but they're understandably holding a failed quarantine over the aliens because of their threatening nature, and as mentioned in Non-Malicious Monster above, the aliens are simply hungry and confused animals.
- Averted in the animated adaptations where while Ira Kane, Harry Block, Wayne Grey, and a 4th party member named Lt. Lucy Mai are still good, the aliens are straight-up malevolent invaders bent on destruction.