Ranking Michael Bay’s Movies

7 minute read

By Jack Sackman

Michael Bay began his career by directing music videos for well-known pop stars. In fact, his first directorial effort was a music video for Vanilla Ice.

From such humble beginnings, Bay has gone onto direct the billion-dollar Transformers movies, which is one of the largest and most profitable film franchises in history. Along the way, Bay directed several other successful movies that have attracted audiences but polarized critics.

While Bay has taken a backseat since directing Transformer: The Last Knight, he still has quite an impressive filmography. So, we thought it’d be a cool idea to rank Bay’s films from our least to most favorite.

6 Underground (2019)

I bet you didn’t even know this movie existed before reading this article. And I don’t blame you since 6 Underground came out at the end of 2019 on Netflix to absolutely no fanfare.

Despite substantial funding from Netflix and Ryan Reynolds in the starring role, 6 Underground doesn’t leave much of an impression. While it has all the bombastic action, overindulgence of explosions, and nonstop quips Michael Bay has become known for, 6 Underground feels rather lifeless. Just Bay going through the motions because Netflix threw money at him.

Source: Picture via Netflix

Bad Boys II (2003)

While Bad Boys was a fresh take on the buddy cop movie genre, Bad Boys II isn’t as fondly remembered.

This sequel released eight years later begs one question: Why? It was totally unnecessary and came at a time when nobody was begging for a sequel to the original. Moreso, the originally funny chemistry and banter between stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence was tired and exhausted in this second outing.

With a weak plot involving illegal ecstasy flowing into Florida, this movie is basically an excuse for Bay to do what he does best – smash cars and blow things up. Not a movie worth paying to see.

Source: Picture via Sony Pictures

Transformers Sequels (2009-2017)

This entry does not include the first Transformers movie since it was much better than these efforts. We’re talking about the four sequels that followed: 2009’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, 2011’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon, 2014’s Transformers: Age of Extinction, and 2017’s Transformers: The Last Knight.

Taken together, these sequels are not great. Taken separately and individually, each of them is downright terrible. Revenge of the Fallen and Dark of the Moon are particularly bad. At least, Age of Extinction and The Last Knight livened up the series a bit when switching out Shia LaBeouf for Mark Wahlberg.

Loud, bombastic, and over-the-top in the worst ways, these movies have little plot, generally bad acting, and seem to simply be an excuse for Michael Bay to show off his skills with lighting and pyrotechnics. Beyond the explosions, there is not much to enjoy here. Sure the occasional building turning sideways and collapsing is interesting, but a good special effect does not a great movie make.

Source: Screenshot via Paramount Pictures

Pearl Harbor (2001)

Michael Bay’s grand epic about the World War II attack on Pearl Harbor was roundly savaged by critics when it was released in 2001. Despite poor reviews, it was a box office hit.

Taking a cue from the success of the James Cameron directed movie Titanic, Pearl Harbor puts a cheesy love story in the middle of a historical disaster. Starring Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, and Kate Beckinsale, this movie unsuccessfully blends history, romance, and action. As a result, it feels forced and labored throughout.

Despite some well-shot dog fight scenes, Pearl Harbor largely succeeds in being a forgettable movie.

Source: Picture via Buena Vista Pictures

13 Hours (2016)

If you like scattershot action movies with little-to-no plot and tons of patriotism, then 13 Hours is the film for you.

This 2016 military flick about a team of security experts who have to fend off an attack on a U.S. compound in Libya is nothing short of chaotic. After about six minutes of set-up, the movie quickly moves into a barrage of gunfire and explosions so relentless and merciless that you’ll feel like this movie really did last 13 hours. At nearly two and a half hours, this movie is quite long. Given the near lack of any discernible plot, character development, or emotion, the movie feels even longer. Guess the fact that this movie is “based on real events” is enough to hold people’s attention.

Considering this movie came out well before The Quiet Place and Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan changed people’s perception of John Krasinski as an actor, the casting of him as the lead action hero didn’t work. Due to his role as Jim Halpert in The Office, audiences just didn’t buy Krasinski as an action star.

Source: Screenshot via Paramount Pictures

Pain & Gain (2013)

In Michael Bay’s filmography, 2013’s Pain & Gain is a smaller, more personal story about three knucklehead bodybuilders. They kidnap a wealthy client from the gym where they work in hopes of extorting money from him. Of course, the plan goes horribly wrong and mayhem ensues.

Interestingly, Pain & Gain was based on a true story that actually happened in Florida. However, some of the chase scenes and shootouts have been embellished in typical Michael Bay fashion.

Although it might seem mindless on the surface, Pain & Gain is a solid effort from Bay. It has a good cast including Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Ed Harris, Rebel Wilson, and Ken Jeong. Plus, it’s quite funny in parts.

Source: Screenshot via Paramount Pictures

Bad Boys (1995)

Bad Boys, starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, was the first feature film directed by Michael Bay. Since its release, Bad Boys remains a bit of a high watermark for everyone involved.

With its mix of action and comedy, Bad Boys has a fresh vibe that is fun and bouncy. The chemistry between Smith and Lawrence is strong as they seem to genuinely enjoy working with each other. Plus, this movie gave hints of many of the now-trademark Michael Bay directorial flourishes, including the tropical locations, sunset lighting, car demolitions, and explosions.

Source: Picture via Sony Pictures

The Island (2005)

The Island is a bit of a curiosity in Michael Bay’s filmography. It’s an original sci-fi film that has an intriguing story and two unconventional stars.

Ewan McGregor and Scarlet Johansson star as two people in a future world who are waiting to go to the titular Island, a reported utopia and tropical paradise where people can actually enjoy themselves. In a twist, they discover that people like him are merely clones of real-world celebrities, used for organ harvesting or surrogate motherhood for wealthy people in the outside world.

Competent acting and strong special effects make The Island one of Michael Bay’s better movies.

Source: Screenshot via DreamWorks Pictures

Armageddon (1998)

It may seem a little silly now on a repeat viewing, but Armageddon stands as a fun piece of ’90s nostalgia. This movie also cemented Michael Bay’s legacy as one of the top action directors in Hollywood and really brought his distinct directorial style home to roost.

The story about a team of quirky deep core drillers who are recruited by NASA to stop a meteor the size of Texas from crashing into Earth is a little dumb. But the film is helped by a strong cast that includes Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, Steve Buscemi, Will Patton, Billy Bob Thornton, Owen Wilson, and Michael Clarke Duncan. Plus, the special effects, bombast, and explosions are all vintage Michael Bay.

While Armageddon is no Citizen Kane, it is still a fun popcorn movie to watch when you’re in the right mood. It’s the kind of movie you enjoy watching on a Sunday afternoon when you have nothing better to do.

Source: Screenshot via Buena Vista Pictures

Transformers (2007)

The first Transformers movie is far better than the many sequels that followed it. Plus, it was actually highly influential in Hollywood. This is because it made a quantum leap forward in CGI technology and computer animation.

In Transformers, the CGI robots — the titular Transformers — look really great and blend in with the human actors in a way that had never been seen before. Plus the lighting, tone, and visuals all had superior production values. The result is a movie that is actually quite involving and exciting to watch. People actually felt like they were seeing something new and unique when they watched it. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the action sequences were amazing too.

Michael Bay actually defied expectations with Transformers, as most people didn’t expect much from a film based on a toy line from the 1980s. Even Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox, two actors who receive plenty of criticism for most of their roles, managed to give convincing and entertaining performances in this one.

Source: Screenshot via Paramount Pictures

The Rock (1996)

Probably the closest thing to a classic movie on this list is The Rock starring Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, and Ed Harris. The movie follows a mild-mannered chemist (Cage) and an illegally imprisoned British spy (Connery) as they try to stop a rogue group of Marines who are threatening to unleash a nerve gas attack from Alcatraz prison.

Through and through, The Rock is a fun movie. Like Armageddon, it’s a little dated and pretty silly. Despite being a bit dated now, it has plenty of action and few laughs to keep people thoroughly entertained.

Source: Screenshot via Buena Vista Pictures

Jack Sackman


Jack Sackman has been writing about movies and TV for Goliath since 2013.