All 14 Michael Bay Movies, Ranked
Michael Bay is a divisive figure. While his films are almost all incredibly successful, having grossed billions of dollars, he's also been a critical punching bag for most of his career. Even back in 1998, Entertainment Weekly was asking "Is Michael Bay the Devil?" and he's been mocked everywhere from South Park to countless YouTube videos that attempt to mimic his singular style. Is he really that bad? Or is there a mad genius to his work?
We decided to take stock of the director's long career. So, hop in your Hummer, throw on some overpriced sunglasses, and prepare for Bay-hem.
14. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)Bay and his Transformers writing team have an excuse for this bloated, garish, and straight-up intolerant mess of a studio blockbuster: during the film's development in 2008, the Writer's Guild of America went on strike, preventing the screenwriters from penning an actual script. To finish on time, Bay conceived action sequences that were later filled with story. If only that explained the incorporation of Skids and Mudflap, a pair of "street"-talking bots, a slinky, evil co-ed Transformer, the appearance of robot heaven, and the line, "I am directly below enemy scrotum" (delivered by John Turturro from beneath a pair of dangling robot balls). Revenge of the Fallen is a $200 million hot mess. -- Matt Patches
13. Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)Despite reservations to direct a fourth Transformers, Bay returned for the Age of Extinction payday, replacing his art-drunk star Shia LaBeouf with basic action star Mark Wahlberg. After pushing visual limits with Dark of the Moon, Bay found nowhere else to go but backwards, stringing together two and a half hours of computer-generated action sequences and mythological bullshit. "Transformers riding robot dinosaurs!" is the premise of an action-figure line, not a movie, but Age of Extinction runs with it anyway, praying Mark Wahlberg's fatherly wisdom and newcomer Nicola Peltz's hyper-tan physique can distract from the vacancy. Nope. Emphasize the story of a Transformers movie and you wind up like Age of Extinction, riding statutory rape jokes into the sunset. Woof. -- Matt Patches
12. Pearl Harbor (2001)Following the critical and commercial success of Titanic and Saving Private Ryan, Bay and producer Jerry Bruckheimer attempt to split the difference: what if you combined a teeny-bopper historical romance with dad-friendly, Brokaw-approved WWII action? The rest is laughable, embarrassing history. Affleck can’t shake his Eddie Haskell image, Josh Hartnett struggles to stay awake, and Kate Beckinsale makes you yearn for the subtle dinner theater of the Underworld series. You can tell Bay’s attention was directed elsewhere: mainly on the explosions, which provide the movie’s final 90 minutes with enough trite rah-rah patriotism to shell-shock you back into consciousness. -- Dan Jackson
11. Transformers: The Last Knight (2017)If you've been with this series for five whole movies, you pretty much know what to expect to see onscreen: a lot of stuff. Even so, there's more stuff in The Last Knight than there is in maybe any other Transformers movie, which I guess is one way to end your billion-dollar franchise. It's not a great movie, but it's also not a bad one, filled with so much gonzo weirdness -- King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table fighting off the Saxons with the aid of an enormous robot dragon, the planet Cybertron crashing into us and literally scraping the crust off the Earth, Anthony Hopkins trading one-liners with an opera-belting robot butler named Cogman -- that you'll find yourself having a good time despite the entire thing being, more or less, wholly incomprehensible.
10. Bad Boys II (2003)It’s tempting to view Bad Boys II as a swagged-out double LP of Bay-ian excess, the Edgar Wright-approved White Album of the director’s swinging-dick aesthetic. But when was the last time you actually watched this thing? It’s an ugly, hateful mess. Putting aside the finale's tasteless destruction of a Cuban village by Hummer, the film’s “comedy” traffics in nothing but cruel stereotypes, juvenile body humor, and painful improvised riffs between Smith and Lawrence. If the movie is so heinous, why isn't it at the bottom of this list? Come on -- you have to admit the action scenes, like the awe-inspiring Haitian shootout, deliver the loud, explosive, and, uh, deeply problematic goods. -- Dan Jackson
9. Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)In its thrilling Chicago siege section, Bay gets to make the Transformers film he’s been itching to make all along: an epic, militarized throwdown. As glass buildings fall from the sky, interlocking machines swoop beneath the ashes, and pillars of flames rise from the ground, the movie attains a hallucinatory quality. Like all Bay movies, it’s still overlong by about 30 minutes and not as funny as it thinks it is. And, sure, the main plotline following an over-it Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox replacement Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is a snooze, but the story’s bulk is enlivened by frantic comic turns from Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, and the always-game John Turturro. Watch it with the sound off, and it almost works as abstract art. -- Dan Jackson
8. 13 Hours (2016)If it’s not clear yet: Michael Bay doesn’t do subtlety. Channeling the tactics-first approach of Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down, the unapologetically pro-military filmmaker does his gung-ho best to skirt the partisan blame-game associated with the word "Benghazi," all while still tossing tiny bits of culture-war red meat to the Fox News crowd. Casting Breaking Bad’s David Costabile as a pencil-pushing CIA nerd is a stroke of genius, but the film’s many bearded warriors -- including a dour John Krasinski -- all feel interchangeable. The movie’s "snobs vs. slobs" approach of pitting the gruff military men against the Ivy League CIA elites is a too convenient (and silly) reading of a complex issue. But the military action is pretty thrilling if you enjoy the sounds of dudes yelling over machine-gun fire -- and, let’s be honest: if you’re reading this list, you probably do. -- Dan Jackson
7. Transformers (2007)Fun fact: Steven Spielberg takes a producer credit on each Transformers movie (and, somehow, can sleep at night). His prints are only visible in the original, which combines the E.T. director's love for boy-and-his-[BLANK] coming-of-age stories with Bay's love for saturation and 'splosions. Looking back, Transformers is modest. Bay translates the IP's playset origins with inspirational speeches and whirlwind car chases. The final battle stuns with a mix of practical and computer effects. When the gazillion-pixeled Optimus Prime isn't crushing your retinas with bot-on-bot fisticuffs, Shia LaBeouf's scrappy teen hero earns his everyman journey, and his friendship with Bumblebee the Mute Hotrod. Transformers is Bay in director-for-hire mode, servicing our engines with popcorn entertainment. -- Matt Patches
5. The Island (2005)The only certified flop in Bay’s luxury parking garage of a filmography -- it grossed about $35 million domestically against a reportedly $126 million budget -- The Island is yet another bid for respectability. Working without Bruckheimer for the first time, Bay crafts his most cerebral film, a Philip K. Dick-biting futuristic sci-fi yarn about human cloning starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson. OK, maybe “cerebral” is the wrong word? It’s still a Michael Bay film -- shit blows up, conspiracies get unraveled, and everyone is shot from crazy-low angles -- but the movie’s pre-Hunger Games vision of a dystopian future is surprisingly thoughful. -- Dan Jackson
4. Armageddon (1998)The Criterion Collection, reserved for baroque Swedish films and the deep cuts of '70s auteurship, embraced Bay's jump to sci-fi spectacle. Little explanation is required. Armageddon is lean, expertly crafted, and rowdy. Scenes of meteoric destruction channel Irwin Allen and Michelangelo. The final, ludicrous mission to blow up the plummeting space rock is the closest we'll come to a Bay-directed opera. But it's the cast -- Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Owen Wilson, Steve Buscemi, and so many more -- that makes Armageddon a ride. Bay's drill-team heroes add red and white to their blue collars for a fist-pumping display of patriotism, no international enemy required. For those of us who weren't born early enough for the Space Race, there's Armageddon. -- Matt Patches
3. Pain & Gain (2013)In this delightful GQ oral history of the director’s career, many of Bay’s collaborators speak of him as a pretty funny, self-aware dude. While his films often feature inspired comic performances -- he had the foresight to cast Owen Wilson in Armageddon soon after Bottle Rocket -- Pain & Gain is his only all-out comedy, a satirical riff on American exceptionalism based on a dark true-crime story. With brilliant turns from The Rock, Anthony Mackie, and a very game Mark Wahlberg, the movie has a dangerous, wicked energy to it. You’re never sure just how far Bay is gonna push his mischievous gross-out aesthetic. Because he’s still Michael Bay, the movie OD's on its own cynicism in the final 20 minutes, but in brief, glorious stretches this is the Bay-hem-filled Billy Wilder movie you never knew you needed. -- Dan Jackson
2. Bad Boys (1995)Bay jumped from music video and commercial directing to the big leagues with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence's buddy-cop movie. The vehicle restrained him, thank God. Through the disruptive Burnett and Lowrey, Bay's knack for extravagance, vulgarity, and fetishized masculine physicality could shine. When we think of badass, we think of Smith and Lawrence guns a'blazing, rolling through an explosion to escape a sunset shootout. There's heat, there's grime, there's Smith rattling off f-bombs like a swear-word gatling gun. Bay's career is defined by excess, a bespoke look for Bad Boys. -- Matt Patches
1. The Rock (1996)What does the ideal Michael Bay film look like? Pretty much like this: Nicolas Cage frantically chasing green balls of face-melting poisonous gas, Sean Connery crawling through plumes of bright-orange fire, and Ed Harris channelling George C. Scott as the world’s most pissed-off general. Despite the special-effects junky reputation he has from the Transformers series, Bay’s dirty secret is that he’s a skilled director of actors, particularly giant movie stars, allowing them to push the most extreme aspects of their personas to the point of absurdity. His chaos becomes their playpen.
Of course, Bay’s best film still shares many of the flaws of his lesser works -- there’s a hairdresser character that’s nothing more than a gay stereotype, it’s way too long, and women are almost non-existent -- but the movie retains a raw, elemental power. The script, reportedly punched up by both Aaron Sorkin and Quentin Tarantino, crackles with dark humor and quotable one-liners. The set pieces elicit genuine tension. The ending speaks to Bay's favorite theme: the complexity of male friendships created during times of great violence. And, yes, stuff blows up real good. -- Dan Jackson
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