May 31, 2015
Earthquake Expert Reviews 'San Andreas': What's Real & What's Fake!

San Andreas has really shaken up the box office. The movie, starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has brought in $53 million at the box office.

It easily beat out it's closest rival, Pitch Perfect 2, which bagged about $14 million in its third week in theaters, TIME reports.

The film depicts the harrowing consequences of a massive earthquake. Some of the devastating thrills include a tsunami, crumbling buildings, massive cracks in the earth, and just general fear-inducing chaos.

But, it's easy to wonder how much of that could actually happen if an 8.3 magnitude earthquake really hit a major U.S. city. Well, Yahoo News actually asked one and here's what she had to say.

What's fake about San Andreas:

Those huge cracks in the earth: The earthquake in San Andreas creakes massive cracks in the ground. But if a huge earthquake actually happened, we wouldn't see that.

A shot from San Andreas show a huge crack in the earth.
A shot from San Andreas showing a huge crack in the earth.

"The gaping chasm we see rupturing the San Andreas in central California belongs to the realm of the completely impossible," says Dr. Lucy Jones, a U.S. Geological Survey seismologist. "If the fault could open up like that, there would be no friction — and without friction there would be no earthquake."

Seismologists predicting when earthquakes will occur: In San Andreas, the Caltech seismologist who predicts the impending disaster is considered a hero. But in reality, seismologists can't do that says Dr. Jones. Seismologists can't pinpoint when an earthquake will occur.

"The only time we know an earthquake becomes more likely is right after another one because of earthquake triggering, an important piece of seismology the movie gets right."
A still from the movie San Andreas. Photo courtesy Warner Bros
A still from the movie San Andreas. Photo courtesy Warner Bros

Tsunamis in San Francisco: Magnitude 9 earthquakes take place in subduction zones i.e. the areas where tectonic plates collide. The larger plate ultimately pushes the other plate down and creates deformities in the sea floor. These deformities cause tsunamis. There hasn't been an active subduction zone underneath Los Angeles or San Francisco for millions of years, says Dr. Jones. Furthermore, the San Andreas fault tops out at 8.3, and since it's mostly on land, will most likely never cause a tsunami.

That's real about San Andreas:

A 7.1 earthquake in Las Vegas triggering a 9.6 earthquake in San Francisco: This part of the San Andreas is actually plausible, according to Dr. Jones. You just need to adjust the magnitudes. In 1906, a massive earthquake almost destroyed San Francisco. It triggered magnitude 5 to 6 earthquakes in Oregon, Nevada, The Imperial Valley, and The Santa Monica Bay.

"The aftershocks that continue to rattle the characters in the movie are representative of what indeed could follow a real event."
Gaping earth chasms and tsunamis aside, San Andreas hasn't been stirring many positive reviews from critics.

"San Andreas is pretty spectacular if you fancy gawping mindlessly at some bells-and-whistles CGI," writes Jonathan Romney in The Guardian. "But it illustrates once again the movie law that the bigger the apocalypse, the less it means."

Pete Hammond from had a similarly negative review.

"If the Warner Bros advertising department would like a quote on the new disaster movie, San Andreas here's mine: 'The funniest movie of 2015! I have never laughed out loud so much in years!'" he writes. "Of course San Andreas is not meant to be a comedy, but I just couldn't help myself."

San Andreas may have had some poor reviews, but it's $50 million dollars in ticket sales at the box office says that it's made an impact on the public and that's all The Rock and Warner Brothers really care about.

[Photo courtesy Warner Bros.]