At about 10,000 BC, a tribe of hunter-gatherers called the Yagahl live in a remote mountain range in the Urals and survive by killing woolly mammoths. The camp is led by a hunter who has proven his bravery by killing a mammoth single-handedly, and taking the White Spear. The people also strongly venerate an elderly woman, called Old Mother, who has shamanistic powers. As time goes by, the mammoths that supply the people start to dwindle, and the chief of the tribe finds a young girl with blue eyes named Evolet who survived a massacre of her village, perpetrated by what Old Mother calls "four-legged demons" who will come when "the Yagahl go on their last hunt". The chief of the village, not believing in Old Mother's prophecy and desperate to feed his people, leaves and gives the White Spear to his friend Tic'Tic, who also watches over D'Leh, the chief's son. As Tic'Tic alone is entrusted to know of the quest, all the others in the tribe including D'Leh's rival, Ka'Ren, believe that D'Leh's father was a coward and fled. Over time, D'Leh and Evolet fall in love and become close.
When the mammoths finally come, D'Leh and the other men of the tribe hunt them under Tic'Tic's leadership, and D'Leh manages to kill one by luring the beast into impaling itself on his spear, inadvertently winning the White Spear. He also wins Evolet in marriage. However, consumed by the guilt that he did not earn the White Spear fairly, he gives the White Spear up and by effect, forfeits his marriage to Evolet. The next day, Horse-raiders attack the camp, enslaving Evolet and several others and killing many of the tribe. D'Leh, Tic'Tic, Ka'Ren and the young boy Baku set out to rescue Evolet and their fellow Yagahl, but she is recaptured with Ka'Ren and Baku during an attack on the slavers by Terror Birds. Tic'Tic is wounded by the predators during the battle. D'Leh and the injured Tic'Tic continue on. When D'Leh is out hunting, he falls into a pit-trap. When he wakes from the fall, he rescues a Smilodon trapped with him in the pit and then escapes himself. After Tic'Tic recovers, they make their way to a village nearby and learn of a prophecy from the Naku, a tribe they meet: whoever talks to a Smilodon that they call the "Spear-Tooth" will help free their people. D'Leh realizes the prophecy is about him when the sabertooth refuses to kill him when they next meet. They also learn that D'Leh's father, the chief of the Yagahl, was a guest of the Naku and learned from them until the slavers took him captive and Tic'Tic finally reveals to D'Leh why his father left.
Several tribes agree to form a coalition to pursue the raiders that stole their families with D'Leh as their leader. They soon find the ships holding Evolet and their companions. However, with no means to follow the ships, they journey through a vast desert, eventually discovering an advanced civilization similar to ancient Egypt, ruled by an enigmatic figure known as "The Almighty", where Evolet, Baku and the other kidnapped Yagahl are forced to work as slaves. There, the warlord who kidnapped Evolet tries to coerce her into loving him, only to be arrested by The Almighty when they find he has taken her without permission. During a night scouting raid, D'Leh learns of the Almighty and the fate of his father, who perished as a slave. However, the guards see them and attempt to warn the Almighty. Tic'Tic dies from injuries sustained in the fight that follows with the guards, though not before killing them before they can raise the alarm. The Almighty's priests also meanwhile come to believe that Evolet is destined to kill The Almighty, based on the whip scars on her hands matching the stars they call the "Mark of the Hunter" and an ancient prophecy foreseeing their civilization's downfall. The Almighty realizes that Evolet is not the focus of the prophecy, but the hunter's (D'Leh's) herald. D'Leh then starts a rebellion among the slaves, killing many of the Almighty's forces, though Ka'Ren is killed.
The Almighty offers Evolet and the other hunters to D'Leh in exchange for abandoning his rebellion. D'Leh feigns acceptance of the deal but throws a spear at The Almighty and kills him. During the ensuing battle, Evolet dies at the hands of the warlord before he in turn is killed by D'Leh, but is restored to life by the Old Mother sacrificing her own life with her powers. With the Almighty and his people dead and his civilization destroyed, the Yagahl bid farewell to the other tribes and return home with seeds given to them by the Naku people to begin farming and start a new life.
The mammoths in the movie were based on elephants and fossils of mammoths, while the sabertooth cat was based on tigers and ligers (a lion/tiger hybrid).
The sounds made by the sabertooth cat in the movie are based on the vocalization of tigers and lions.
Emmerich opened casting sessions in late October 2005. In February 2006, Camilla Belle and Steven Strait were announced to star in the film, with Strait as the mammoth hunter and Belle as his love. Emmerich decided that casting well known actors would distract from the realistic feel of the prehistoric setting. "If like, Jake Gyllenhaal turned up in a movie like this, everybody would be, 'What's that?' " he explained. The casting of unknown actors also helped keep the film's budget down.
At the 2008 Wondercon, Emmerich mentioned the fiction of Robert E. Howard as a primary influence for the film's setting, as well as his love for Quest for Fire and the book Fingerprints of the Gods.
Director Roland Emmerich and composer Harald Kloser originally penned a script for 10,000 BC. When the project received the greenlight from Columbia Pictures, screenwriter John Orloff began work on a new draft of the original script. Columbia Pictures, under Sony Pictures Entertainment, dropped the project due to a busy release calendar, and Warner Bros. picked up the project in Sony's vacancy. The script went through a second revision with Matthew Sand and a final revision with Robert Rodat.
Production began in early 2006 in South Africa and Namibia. Location filming also took place in southern New Zealand and Thailand. Before shooting began, the production had spent eighteen months on research and development for the computer generated imagery. Two companies recreated prehistoric animals. To cut time (it was taking sixteen hours to render a single frame) 50% of the CGI models' fur was removed, as "it turned out half the fur looked the same" to the director.
Emmerich rejected making the film in an ancient language (similar to The Passion of the Christ or Apocalypto), deciding that it would not be as emotionally engaging.
Dialect coach Brendan Gunn was hired by Emmerich and Kloser to create "a half dozen" languages for the film. Gunn has stated that he collaborated informally with film lead Steven Strait to improvise what the languages would sound like.
In an alternate ending, the scene shifts forward many years into the future, showing Baku's retelling of the story by the camp fire. It ends with a child asking what had happened to the "Mountains of the Gods", and Baku responds, "They were taken back by the sands. Lost to time, lost to man".
The film received largely negative reviews from critics, stating that the movie is mainly visual and lacks a firm screenplay. Critics noted that the film is archaeologically inaccurate and contains many factual errors and anachronisms. As of December 16, 2014, the review aggregator at Rotten Tomatoes has reported that 8% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 145 reviews with the consensus: "With attention strictly paid to style instead of substance, or historical accuracy, 10,000 BC is a visually impressive but narratively flimsy epic." Metacritic reported the film had an average score of 34 out of 100, based on 29 reviews.
Composer Thomas Wanker won a BMI Film Music Award for his work on the film.
The film was a moderate success at the box office. In its opening weekend, the film grossed $35.8 million in 3,410 theaters in the United States and Canada, ranking No. 1 at the box office, and grossing over $22 million more than the film in second place, College Road Trip. As of April 29, 2008, it has grossed approximately $268.6 million worldwide – $94.6 million in the United States and Canada and $174 million in other territories – including $17.2 million in Mexico, $13.1 million in Spain, $11.3 million in the United Kingdom, and $10.8 million in China. This also makes it the first film of 2008 to surpass the $200 million mark.
The DVD of the film was released on June 24, 2008 in single disc editions of DVD and Blu-ray Disc in the United States. Best Buy released a 2-disc limited edition along with the DVD and Blu-ray Disc releases. It was released on July 21, 2008 in the United Kingdom. The film grossed $31,341,721 in DVD sales, bringing its total film gross to $300,414,491.