What Is the Movie "Magnitude 10.5" All About?

by Petra Turnbull

The movie "10.5," also known as "Magnitude 10.5" in some international versions, aired in 2004 on NBC as a miniseries before being released worldwide on DVD. The film about an earthquake devastating the west coast of the U.S. starred Kim Delaney, Beau Bridges and Fred Ward and was directed by John Lafia.


The movie starts with an earthquake in Seattle witnessed from the point of view of a biker who is hit by the parts of a collapsing local attraction, the Space Needle. Further south in California, seismologist Dr. Samantha Hill, played by Kim Delaney, rushes to work when a second, more powerful quake strikes there. News of the ensuing damage and loss of human life is brought to the president of the U.S., portrayed by Beau Bridges, who is in the middle of playing a basketball game with his friend Roy Nolan, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.


While the president and Nolan establish a crisis team, the movie introduces various secondary characters who have parts to play in the unfolding events. Characters include a bickering father and daughter on a hiking trip; Zach Nolan, a surgeon and the estranged son of Roy; and the female governor of California, who happens to be the ex-wife and mother of the bickering hiking team. Further earthquakes occur, creating faults big enough to swallow a passenger train and various buildings.

The Crisis Unfolds

Samantha Hill presents a theory of undiscovered faults hidden beneath the earth's crust to the president and his crisis team. She also predicts a major earthquake in San Francisco, which takes place and flattens the entire city. While the governor of California has to be rescued from the ladies' room by her assistant, the father and daughter fare only slightly better in the wilderness, losing their car in quicksand and narrowly managing to escape. In the meantime, Dr. Zach Nolan performs medical rescue missions in a refugee camp. While the governor recuperates she receives a phone call from her ex-husband who has made it unharmed out of the wilderness with their daughter.

Nuclear Solution

The president and his team decide to close the hidden faults by sending six nuclear warheads deep into the ground. Roy Nolan is obliged to manually set one of the warheads but an aftershock occurs and he is pinned down by the warhead. Roy contacts his estranged son by cellphone and they reconcile. The first five warheads are deployed and Roy manages to set off the warhead under which he is pinned. It detonates and Roy is killed.


Nolan's self-sacrifice proves useless as the warhead did not penetrate the earth deep enough to reach the fault. A final earthquake with a magnitude of 10.5 on the Richter scale shatters Los Angeles and most of southern California. Dr. Nolan makes it out of the refugee camp and the movie ends with a speech by the president about the power of nature, as the southwest coast of California appears in the distance as an island separated from the mainland.

About the Author

Based in the U.K., Petra Turnbull has been working as a journalist since 1989. Her articles on the film and book trades have been published in "Screen International," "Dagens Naringsliv," "Film Magasinet" and other Scandinavian newspapers and magazines. She now manages her own book shop. Turnbull holds degrees in law and economics from Goethe University, Germany and Oslo Business School in Norway.

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