Hollywood loves making disaster films. No, not the kind that flop at the box office, but the movies that portray stories of courageous humans, surviving epic catastrophes. Some films are based on true stories while others are fanciful and filled with special effects.
The United States Geological Survey is the federal agency leading research, forecasts, and monitoring of geologic hazards like volcanoes, landslides, wildfires, and earthquakes. They also educate Americans, helping to separate science fantasy from science fact.
Referring to the highest grossing, earthquake-specific Hollywood film, San Andreas (2015 - Gross: USD $155.19 million), USGS.gov commented:
The idea of a “Mega-Quake” – an earthquake of magnitude 10 or larger – while theoretically possible—is very highly unlikely. Earthquake magnitude is based in part on the length of faults -- the longer the fault, the larger the earthquake. The simple truth is that there are no known faults capable of generating a magnitude 10 or larger “mega-quake.” The San Andreas fault is not long and deep enough to have a magnitude 9 or larger earthquake as depicted in the movie. The largest historical earthquake on the northern San Andreas was the 1906 magnitude 7.9 earthquake. In 1857 the Fort Tejon earthquake occurred on the southern San Andreas fault; it is believed to have had a magnitude of about 7.9 as well. Computer models show that the San Andreas fault is capable of producing earthquakes up to about magnitude 8.3, but anything larger is extremely unlikely. Shaking from even the largest possible San Andreas fault events will not be felt on the east coast.
So when you see the next big disaster film, rest assured that movies are just entertainment. Enjoy them! And then go learn about the real-world science behind disasters and if you live in an area where hazards exist, take the suggested steps to protect you and your family.