At the helm of this production is a master of the "disaster movie" genre, Roland Emmerich. You will certainly know his films even if you have never heard of him: "Independence Day", "Godzilla", "Eight Legged Freaks" and "The Day After Tomorrow". Notice a theme here? Humanity is faced with massive destruction (and possible extinction) by external forces, sometimes alien and sometimes environmental.
I am not sure what drives the desire of the masses to flock to see these disaster movies (guilty your Honour). Perhaps it is because, as sentient beings, we are well aware of how very precarious and miraculous our existence happens to be. While our art, poetry, and architecture strives for immortality we know that each of us has a limited bloom.
The disaster movie is not new of course. The Cold War brought us classic B-movies on alien invasions and later the Moon landing inspired what is arguably the golden age of space-based science fiction films from 1969-1979 (think "2001" & "Star Wars"). A renaissance of sorts for the disaster genre began in the 1990s with Emmerich and others (think "Armageddon" & "Deep Impact").
What is striking is that when we witnessed actual disasters, such as 9/11 and the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake how so many people commented that it was like watching a movie. As we repelled from the horrors and truths about the very real disasters on our planet we continued to rush into darkened rooms to watch stories about humanity clinging to thin threads of fate. Perhaps it's because the core of most of these films is about the fierce will to survive and the fight to endure. Indeed, a common theme echoes by these fims is the power of hope, a strange notion for hope is certainly not much of a strategy.