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 on to direct the billion dollar Transformers series of movies, which is one of the biggest and most profitable film franchises in history. Along the way, Bay directed several other successful movies that have attracted audiences at the box office but polarized critics. This June, Bay’s fifth Transformer movie (subtitled The Last Knight) will hit theaters. And while he insists this will be his last movie about the Autobots and Decepticons, he has said as much before. We can’t help but think that if this next movie is profitable (which is almost certainly will be), there will be more Transformers films to come. Here are all of the movies directed by Michael Bay, ranked.
10. Bad Boys II (2003)
We’ve got to start off with a sequel here, as Bad Boys II is, without a doubt, the worst movie that Michael Bay has ever directed. While the original Bad Boys from 1995 was a fresh take on the buddy cop movie genre, the 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. Plus the same chemistry and banter between stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence that seemed funny and fresh in the first film just seems tired and exhausted in this second outing. With a weak plot involving illegal ecstasy flowing into Florida and Smith and Lawrence’s efforts to stop it, this movie is basically an excuse for Bay to do what he does best – smash cars on freeways and blow things up. Not a movie worth paying to see.
9. All The Transformers Sequels (2009-2014)
This entry does not include the first Transformers movie — it was much better than these efforts. We’re talking about the three sequels that followed – from 2009’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen to 2014’s Transformers: Age of Extinction. Taken together, these sequels are not great. Taken separately and individually, each of them is downright terrible. Revenge of the Fallen and 2011’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon are particularly bad. Age of Extinction at least livened up the series a bit when Mark Wahlberg joined the cast. 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 — plus a ridiculous amount of CGI. 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.
8. Pearl Harbor (2001)
This grand epic about the World War II attack on Pearl Harbor was roundly savaged by critics when it was released in 2001, though it still turned a profit. Taking a cue from the success of the James Cameron directed movie Titanic, Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor puts a cheesy love story in the middle of a historical disaster. Starring Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett as two childhood friends who become fighter pilots in WWII, and who also pine for the same nurse (Kate Beckinsale), this movie tries unsuccessfully to blend history, romance, and action sequences in a film that never really comes together and feels forced and labored throughout. Supporting performances by Alec Baldwin and Cuba Gooding Jr. don’t help matters, despite each of them being great actors. While some of the aerial dog fight scenes are well-shot, Pearl Harbor largely succeeds in being a forgettable movie.
7. 13 Hours (2016)
If you like scattershot action movies with little -to-no plot, that are wrapped in the flag, 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 gun fire and explosions that is so relentless and merciless that you’ll feel like this movie really did last 13 hours. Actually, this movie is quite long, at nearly two and a half hours. Given the near lack of any discernible plot, character development, or emotion, the movie feels even longer. We suppose the fact that this movie is “based on real events” is enough to make us care. Plus, the casting of actor John Krasinski (The Office) as the lead action hero in this movie is all wrong. Audiences just don’t buy him as an action star – even if he did do some sit-ups for this movie. Not really worth your time.
6. Pain & Gain (2013)
Now we’re starting to get into some of the better movies on this list. The 2013 film Pain & Gain is a smaller, more personal story (in Michael Bay’s world anyway) about three knucklehead body builders who 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, this movie is based on a true story that actually happened in Florida – though some of the chase scenes and shootout have been embellished in typical Michael Bay fashion. This is not the worst movie on this list, nor is it the worst movie for stars Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. There’s also a decent supporting cast in this film, including Ed Harris, Peter Stormare, and Ken Jeong. Pain & Gain is even quite funny in parts.
5. Bad Boys (1995)
The 1995 movie Bad Boys, starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, was the first feature film directed by Bay, and it remains a bit of a high water mark for everyone involved. This movie also introduced the world to actress Tea Leoni, which is a good thing. This movie came out when Smith and Lawrence were each known primarily as big TV stars. Neither actor had made a true blockbuster film yet. The result is that Bad Boys, with its mix of action and comedy, has a fresh vibe that is fun and bouncy. The chemistry between Smith and Lawrence is strong and they seem to genuinely enjoy working with each other. Plus, this movie gave hints of many of the now-trademark Michael Bay directorial flourishes – the tropical locations, sunset lighting, car demolitions, and explosions. It’s all here to see in its infancy. If you look closely, you can see the seeds of the future Transformers films. Interestingly, not one but two Bad Boys sequels are now in development.
4. The Island (2005)
The Island is a bit of a curiosity in the Michael Bay 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 Island, a reported utopia and tropical paradise where people can actually enjoy themselves. Unfortunately, Ewan McGregor’s character discovers that what’s really going on is 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. With Johansson in tow, McGregor escapes and a fairly exciting chase ensues that harkens back to classic sci-fi movies such as Logan’s Run. Competent acting and strong special effects make The Island one of Michael Bay’s better movies. It is certainly one of his most unique films.
3. Armageddon (1998)
It may seem a little silly now on a repeat viewing, but Armageddon stands as a fun piece of 1990s 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 this movie 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. Plus, the theme song by Aerosmith, “I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing” is a cheesy classic.
2. Transformers (2007)
The first Transformers movie is better than the many sequels that followed it, and was actually highly influential in Hollywood. This is because it made a quantum leap forward in CGI technology and computer animation. In the first Transformers movie, the CGI robots look really great and blend in with the human actors in a way that people didn’t see in previous movies. Plus the lighting, tone, and visuals in the movie all have 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 doesn’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 in a toy 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.
1. The Rock (1996)
Probably the closest thing to a classic movie on this list is the 1996 film The Rock starring Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, and Ed Harris. About a mild-mannered chemist (Cage) and an illegally imprisoned British spy (Connery) who must stop a rogue group of Marines who are threatening to unleash a nerve gas attack from Alcatraz prison, The Rock is a good bit of fun. Like Armageddon, it is a little dated and pretty silly, but has plenty of action and few laughs to keep people thoroughly entertained. It also has a strong supporting cast of actors that includes Michael Biehn, David Morse, and John C. McGinley. Setting the action at Alcatraz also gives The Rock a bit of a special feel. Once the action begins, it is pretty relentless. And kudos to Connery for not looking like he is slumming in this movie. Certainly one of the better films that Nicolas Cage has made in the last 20 years, too.