The story jumps ahead to 2012, to Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), a divorced father who works as a limousine driver and writer, and his ex-wife, Kate (Amanda Peet), and children, Noah (Liam James) and Lily (Morgan Lily), who live with Kate's new boyfriend, Gordon (Thomas McCarthy). Jackson takes his children on a camping trip to Yellowstone, where he meets Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson), who hosts a radio segment that addresses the Mayans' prediction.
Enormous cracks soon develop along the San Andreas Fault, California, and disruptive shaking occurs in the San Francisco Bay area, nearly knocking over a cruise ship. Despite government assurances that all is fine, Jackson grows suspicious.
After hiring a private plane, he drives to Kate's home to save his family and Gordon from the impending earthquakes of the Earth's crust displacement. Jackson quickly collects his family, and Gordon pilots a plane out of the city. Los Angeles then collapses into the Pacific Ocean. When the plane runs low on fuel, they are forced to land in Wyoming. Jackson uses the moment to contact Charlie, regarding a map to ships being built in order to save humanity. They return to Yellowstone to find Charlie, only to discover that he has gone to the mountains to watch the approaching catastrophe.
After getting hold of the map they discover that the ships they are searching for are in China. Jackson and his family leave just in time as Yellowstone Caldera erupts.
In order to get to China they convince a Russian billionaire, Yuri Karpov (Zlatko Buric), to allow them aboard his plane. The group eventually boards an Antonov An-225 at McCarran International Airport, as Las Vegas is destroyed by earthquakes and ravaged by the impeding volcanic ash cloud of Yellowstone.
While in the air, the group learns that the plane does not have enough fuel to reach China: they've passed Honolulu, Hawaii, which has been inundated in lava. As they're about to ditch the plane they discover that they are no longer above the ocean: the Earth's crust has shifted thousands of miles and they are heading towards the Himalayas. During a crash landing on a glacier they manage to escape from the plane safely by using one of the luxury vehicles in cargo as a raft, only to be abandoned by Yuri.
The group eventually find their way to the ships with the help of some locals and are smuggled aboard with the help of a Buddhist monk and his brother, a construction worker. Tsunamis begin to engulf the Indian peninsula, and a giant wave eventually reaches the ships, which turn out to be arks constructed to save the heads of state, hand-picked individuals chosen to repopulate the earth and the rich elite, who could afford to buy tickets (which was earlier mentioned that tickets were €1 000 000 000).
Adrian convinces the captains of the arks to let on more people by quoting Jackson's book which he liked, but the gate on the American ark gets jammed and the ark ends up on a crash course for Mount Everest. Jackson fixes the problem with the help of his son and the ark crashes but slows down enough that the damage is minor. When the flood eventually recedes, the captains of the arks decide upon the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa as a suitable place to reestablish humanity. The movie ends with a view of the world showing the dramatically changed African continent.
Director Roland Emmerich and composer-producer Harald Kloser co-wrote a spec script titled 2012, which was marketed to major studios in February 2008. Nearly all studios met with Emmerich and his representatives to hear the director's budget projection and story plans, a process that the director had previously gone through with the films Independence Day (1996) and The Day After Tomorrow (2004). The film was shopped around with a production budget of $260 million. Later that month, Sony Pictures Entertainment won the rights for the spec script, planning to distribute it under Columbia Pictures. The studio planned to make the film for less than the estimated budget.
Filming was originally scheduled to begin in Los Angeles, California, in July 2008, but instead commenced in Vancouver in August 2008 and concluded in January 2009. Due to the possible 2008 Screen Actors Guild strike, filmmakers set up a contingency plan for salvaging the film. Uncharted Territory, Digital Domain, Double Negative, Scanline, Sony Pictures Imageworks and others were hired to create visual effects for 2012. Thomas Wander co-wrote the score with Harald Kloser.