Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a biomedical engineer aboard the NASA space shuttle Explorer for her first space mission, STS-157. Veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is commanding his final mission. During a spacewalk to service the Hubble Space Telescope and Stone's upgrades to the Telescope, Mission Control in Houston warns the team about a Russian missile strike on a defunct satellite, which has inadvertently caused a chain reaction forming a cloud of debris in space. Mission Control orders that the mission be aborted and the crew begin re-entry immediately because the debris is speeding towards the shuttle. Communication with Mission Control is lost shortly thereafter.
In New York City, the Bonwit Teller department store is destroyed by a bomb during the morning commute. The New York City Police Department receive a call from a man calling himself "Simon", ordering them that suspended police officer Lt. John McClane be dropped in Harlem wearing a sandwich board that says "I hate niggers" and threatening to detonate another bomb if they don't comply. They collect McClane and follow Simon's instructions; McClane is saved from a potential attack by a group of young men by Zeus Carver, a nearby shop owner. McClane and Carver escape and return to headquarters, where Simon calls again and threatens to detonate more bombs if McClane and Carver do not follow his instructions.
Los Angeles SWAT officers Jack Traven and Harry Temple thwart an attempt by a bomber to hold an elevator full of people for a $3 million ransom. They corner the bomber, but he grabs Harry. Jack shoots Harry in the leg, forcing the bomber to release him. He turns and runs around a corner, apparently dying in an explosion. Jack and Harry are praised by their superior, Lieutenant "Mac" McMahon.
On Christmas Eve two years after the Nakatomi Tower Incident, John McClane is waiting at Washington Dulles International Airport for his wife Holly to arrive from Los Angeles. Reporter Richard Thornburg, who exposed Holly's identity to Hans Gruber in the Nakatomi Tower, is assigned a seat across the aisle from her. In the airport bar McClane spots two men in army fatigues carrying a package, one of whom has a gun. He follows them into the baggage area. After a shootout, he kills one of the men while the other escapes. Learning the dead man is a mercenary thought killed in action, McClane relates the situation to airport police Captain Carmine Lorenzo, but Lorenzo has McClane ejected from his office.
On January 24, 2004, friendly Los Angeles cab driver Max Durocher (Jamie Foxx) is working to earn enough to start his own limousine business. One of this evening's fares is U.S. Justice Department prosecutor Annie Farrell (Jada Pinkett Smith). On the drive to her office, they strike up a conversation as a result of a bet on what route will get her downtown the fastest. She takes a liking to Max and leaves him with her business card.
As the Allies make their final push into Germany, Don "Wardaddy" Collier, a battle-hardened U.S. Army staff sergeant in the 66th Armored Regiment, 2nd Armored Division, commands an M4 Sherman "Easy Eight" tank named Fury and its five-man, all-veteran crew: gunner Boyd "Bible" Swan; loader Grady "Coon-Ass" Travis; and driver Trini "Gordo" Garcia. The tank's original assistant driver/bow gunner, "Red", has been killed in battle. His replacement is Norman Ellison, who has only been in the Army for eight weeks and is trained as a typist, not a tank crewman. During his encounter with the men, they harass him and are cruel, obnoxious, and rude to him. Norman is then ordered to clean the tank, and vomits outside after finding a part of Red's face. While at a forward operating base, it's revealed that Wardaddy greatly despises the Waffen-SS, shown when he harasses an injured captive SS non-commissioned officer before telling Norman to kill every one of them he sees.
Recently divorced Meg Altman (Foster) and her 11-year-old daughter Sarah (Stewart) have just purchased a four-story brownstone on the Upper West Side of New York City. The house's previous owner, a reclusive millionaire, installed an isolated room used to protect the house's occupants from intruders. The "panic room" is protected by concrete and steel on all sides, a thick steel door, and an extensive security system with multiple surveillance cameras, a public announcement system, and a separate phone line. On the night the two move into the home, it is broken into by Junior (Leto), the previous owner's grandson; Burnham (Whitaker), an employee of the residence's security company; and Raoul (Yoakam), a ski mask-wearing gunman recruited by Junior. The three are after $3 million in bearer bonds, which are locked inside a floor safe in the panic room.
The film is presented as found footage from a personal video camera recovered by the United States Department of Defense. A disclaimer text states that the footage is of a case designated "Cloverfield" and was found in area US447 "formerly known as Central Park". The video consists primarily of segments taped the night of Friday, May 22, 2009. Occasionally, older segments are shown from a previous video that was mostly taped over.
Alex Shaw is on a motorcycle chase after a vehicle with stolen goods. He eventually catches the driver of the vehicle, but his girlfriend Annie runs into him during her driving test. She finds out that Alex is on the SWAT team after he lied and told her he was a beach cop. As an apology, Alex surprises her with a Caribbean cruise on Seabourn Legend.
In post-Civil War Wyoming, John "The Hangman" Ruth (Russell) is escorting fugitive Daisy "The Prisoner" Domergue (Leigh) to Red Rock where the latter will face justice for murder. They encounter another bounty hunter named Major Marquis "The Bounty Hunter" Warren (Jackson) and Chris "The Sheriff" Mannix (Goggins). A blizzard forces the four to take shelter at a stagecoach passover called Minnie's Haberdashery where they encounter four more strangers; Bob "The Mexican" (Bichir), Oswaldo "The Little Man" Mobray (Roth), Joe "The Cow Puncher" Gage (Madsen), and ex-General Sanford "The Confederate" Smithers (Dern). Through betrayal and deception, the eight strangers soon learn that they may not make it to Red Rock after all.
Major Vic "Deak" Deakins (John Travolta) and Captain Riley Hale (Christian Slater) are pilots in the United States Air Force. After a sparring match, the pilots are assigned to a top secret evening exercise over Utah, flying a B-3 Stealth Bomber (a fictional iteration of the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber) with two B83 nuclear bombs on board.
On New Year's Eve, Vice-President of the Times Square Alliance Claire Morgan (Hilary Swank) is making the final arrangements for the ball drop with the help of her friend Police Officer Brendan (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges). Meanwhile, after being nearly run over by a car and denied a vacation, Ahern Records secretary Ingrid Withers (Michelle Pfeiffer) quits her job and offers the deliveryman Paul Doyle (Zac Efron) tickets for the Ahern Records Masquerade Ball if Paul helps her complete a series of New Year's resolutions before midnight, which he accepts.
On Christmas Eve, New York City Police Detective Lieutenant John McClane arrives in Los Angeles to reconcile with his estranged wife, Holly. McClane is driven to the Nakatomi Plaza building for a company Christmas party by Argyle. While McClane changes clothes, the party is disrupted by the arrival of Hans Gruber and his heavily armed group: Karl, Franco, Tony, Theo, Alexander, Marco, Kristoff, Eddie, Uli, Heinrich, Fritz, and James. The group seize the tower and secure those inside as hostages, except for McClane, who manages to slip away.
Conrad and Sally Walden live in the city of Anville with their single mother Joan Walden, who works for neat-freak Hank Humberfloob. One day, just as Mr. Humberfloob calls in a new member of the "Humberfloob Family", the new worker, Jim McFinnigan shakes his hand in thanks (shocking everyone, as they are aware that one will be fired if whom shakes his hand without permission), which angers Mr. Humberfloob, screaming "FIRED!", and Jim runs out crying. He then puts on hand sanitizer and firmly warns Joan that she will be fired if her house is messy for the upcoming meet and greet party. At the house, Conrad trashes the house, causing their dog Nevins to run down the street in fright. Joan punishes Conrad for a week while re-cleaning the house. Their next door neighbor, Lawrence Quinn, whom Joan is dating to Conrad's dismay, brings back Nevins, and Sally is grateful. When Lawrence leaves, Joan is called back to the office again, leaving the kids with Mrs. Kwan, a lethargic babysitter, and making sure they are forbidden to enter the living room, which is being kept pristine for the upcoming party. Lawrence is constantly on the lookout for any mischief that Conrad is up to, as he wants nothing more than to send him away to military school for the rest of his life, earning Conrad the reputation of "troublemaker", while his sister is characterized as "perfect and well-behaved".