Maria (Naomi Watts) and Henry (Ewan McGregor) have taken their three sons, Lucas (Tom Holland), Simon (Oaklee Pendergast) and Thomas (Samuel Joslin), on a Christmas holiday vacation to a fancy resort in Thailand. They and all the other guests, employees, and residents of the area are totally unprepared when disaster strikes: a tsunami with 98-foot-high waves hits shore while Maria and Henry are at the pool with their children. The powerful and deadly force of the water rips rooms apart in the hotel, uproots trees, and turns the whole area into a river of floating cars and dangerous debris.

Lucas, a teenager, is separated from the family but miraculously makes contact with Maria who has been badly injured. Emerging from the nightmare with only a few scratches, he realizes that taking care of his mother is the first priority. After reaching dry land, Lucas and Maria sleep in a tree for safety. They are able to rescue a toddler from a pile of rubbish.

After a long and difficult journey, they arrive at a crowded hospital where doctors worry about Maria's badly damaged leg. She tells him not to drain all his youthful energy on her but to see what he can do to help others. Lucas improvises a service for people looking for lost loved ones and helps reunite a desperate father and his missing son.

Spanish director J. A. Bayona does a first-rate job focusing on the struggles of one family to survive this disaster and find each other in the chaos afterwards. Henry also survives and is able to save his two younger sons and then searches for Maria and Lucas at the ruined resort. As he continues his mission, a kind and compassionate stranger volunteers to help him. These two inspiring examples of self-sacrifice and kindness are what make The Impossible into something richer and deeper than just another survival story.

This film is based on a true story. The 2004 tsunami killed 220-280,000 people in 14 different countries, making it the sixth deadliest natural disaster in recorded history.

Special features on the DVD include: closed caption; an audio commentary with director J. A. Bayona, writer Sergio G. Sanchez, producer Belen Atienza, and real life survivor Maria Belon; featurettes: "Casting The Impossible" and "Realizing The Impossible"; and deleted scenes.