In 1959, a Lexington, Massachusetts William Dawes Elementary School celebrates its opening with a competition in which students draw what they believe will happen in the future; the works will be stored in a time capsule that will be opened in fifty years. All of the children create visual works except for Lucinda Embry, who is guided by whispering voices to fill both sides of her paper with a series of row numbers with no apparent meaning. Before she can write the final numbers, the allotted time for the task expires and the teacher Priscilla Taylor withdraws the students' drawings. Later, as the time capsule is buried, Lucinda disappears, and Miss Taylor finds Lucinda in a utility closet, scatching the remaining numbers onto the door with her fingernails.
In 2009, the current class opens the time capsule and distributes the drawings inside among the students. Lucinda's sheet is given to Caleb Koestler, the nine-year-old son of the widowed MIT astrophysics professor John Koestler. A stranger stares at Caleb from distance. John examines Lucinda's sequence of numbers and deciphers a pattern "911012996" that links to the September 11 attacks. This spurs his curiosity and furthers examine the paper; realizes that it is a coded message that predicts, with perfect precision, the dates and death tolls of major global disasters over the past fifty years (including the Stockport air disaster 6/04/67, Mexico City earthquake 9/19/85, Chernobyl nuclear accident 4/26/86, Pan Am Flight 103 terrorist bombing 12/21/88, Kobe earthquake 1/17/95, Mecca tunnel tragedy 7/03/90, Turkish Airlines Flight 981 blowout 3/03/74, Indian Ocean tsunami 12/26/04, Oklahoma City bombing 4/19/95, and Hurricane Katrina 2005). However, three of the reported events have yet to happen, and one of the dates corresponds to the following day. John baffles his discovery to his colleague Phil, and then goes to meet Miss Taylor. He learns about Lucinda's closet episode. In his desire to meet Lucinda only to find that she passed away of a medical overdose in 1988. Meanwhile, Caleb begins to hear the same voices that Lucinda did, and then a couple of silent strangers drove up and hands him a smooth stone. John's sister Grace arrives, who is worried about how he is still coping with his wife's death and how he doesn't talk to their father, who is a pastor.
By coincidence, John is present during the next catastrophic event: a plane crash in which 81 people lose their lives. John learns that Lucinda's sheet also contains the geographical coordinates of the events. He becomes convinced that his family has a significant role in these incidents: his wife died in one of the earlier events reported by Lucinda, while Caleb was the one to receive Lucinda's message. Caleb encounters one of the strangers in his bedroom who points at the window imagining a massive fire. He gets scared and when John comforts him he chases the guy outside but he vanished. To prevent these events, John tracks down Lucinda's daughter Diana and her granddaughter Abby. Interpreting the following numbers, John tries and fails to prevent a derailment on the New York City Subway. After some initial disbelief, Diana is now sympathetic to John. She goes with him to Lucinda's mobile home, where they find news articles of other past events (such as Mount St. Helen's eruption, Air New Zealand Flight 901 land crashing, and the Blizzard of '78), and a copy of Matthäus Merian's engraving of Ezekiel's "chariot vision" in which a great sun is represented. John found a pile of stones similar to what Caleb got. They also discover that the final two digits of Lucinda's message are not 33, but 'EE' written in reverse. Underneath Lucinda's bed, their meaning is found to be "Everyone Else." During this search, Caleb and Abby, who were left asleep in the car, have another encounter with the strangers who are the source of the whispering. They spend the night at John's house and the parent slept beside child.
The next day, Abby colors in the sun on the engraving, which gives John a revelation. He rushes to the MIT observatory and learns that a massive solar flare will hit the Earth's ozone layer on the last date indicated by the message. John tells Phil and others to go home that evading the disaster is hopeless. He later opens a gift his wife left him with a locket saying "together forever." As Diana and Abby prepare to take refuge underground, John races to the school; finds the door on which Lucinda engraved the final numbers, and (after shedding off the paint over it) identifies them as coordinates of a place where salvation from the solar flare can be found. The disbelieving and distraught Diana loads both Caleb and Abby into her car and flees for the caves. At a gas station, the strangers hijack her car with Caleb and Abby inside. Diana pursues them but is killed in an accident despite the fact that Lucinda had foretold her death that precise midnight as a child: 10/19/09. An emergency broadcast transmission alerts mankind to take shelter. John catches up and holds Diana's hand and a stone. The strangers took Caleb and Abby to Lucinda's mobile home, where John found them shortly thereafter. The strangers, who act as extraterrestrial angels, are leading "chosen" children to safety on interstellar arks so that humanity can be spare from extinction. John parts with Caleb before him and Abby are transported away by the strangers. The ark departs with the children and a pair of rabbits, and a distant shot shows many similar vehicles leaving Earth.The next morning the skies are orange from the solar flare. John drives through a chaotic Boston toward his estranged father's house and awaits the end of the world in the embrace of his family. The TV is losing connection because the satellites are being destroyed in space. John's father tells him "this isn't the end," and he responds "I know." The solar flare vaporizes the city, and its fiery volutes lap the Earth. The ark, along with others, deposits Caleb and Abby on another planet resembling an earthly paradise. The two run through a field toward a large white tree.
- Nicolas Cage as Professor Jonathan "John" Koestler
- Rose Byrne as Diana Wayland / Lucinda Embry-Wayland (photograph)
- Chandler Canterbury as Caleb Koestler
- Joshua Long as Young Caleb
- Lara Robinson as Young Lucinda Embry / Abby Wayland / Young Diana Wayland (photograph)
- Nadia Townsend as Grace Koestler
- Ben Mendelsohn as Professor Phil Beckman
- Alan Hopgood as Reverend Koestler
- Benita Collings as Mrs. Koestler
- Adrienne Pickering as Allison Koestler
- Liam Hemsworth as Spencer
- Ra Chapman as Jessica
- Lesley Anne Mitchell as Stacy
- Gareth Yuen as Donald
- Verity Charlton as Kim
- Tamara Donnellan as Mrs. Embry
- Travis Waite as Mr. Embry
- D.G. Maloney, Joel Bow, Maximillian Paul, and Karen Hadfield as The Strangers
- David Lennie as Principal Clark in 1959
- Carolyn Shakespeare-Allen as Principal in 2009
- Alethea McGrath as Priscilla Taylor in 2009
- Danielle Carter as Priscilla Taylor in 1959