I’m not gonna lie, I love watching Michael Bay movies. The man makes big event films tailor-made for the big screen. While he occasionally throws up an egg, even his worst films feature something that warrants a look or two.
That said, I’ve gone ahead and ranked Bay’s films from worst to best for your reading pleasure. Obviously, not everyone will agree. So, sound off with your list of Bay’s flicks in the comments, but please remember to keep the discussion civil, people.
Michael Bay Films Ranked From Worst to Best
Transformers: The Last Knight
As was recently revealed in an interview, Michael Bay admits he made far too many Transformers films. That much was clear after the half-hearted Age of Extinction, but at least that one had Dinobots. The Last Knight begins with a drunken Stanley Tucci (as Merlin, no less) pleading with an ancient robot for help — something about King Arthur, a staff, and a three-headed dragon that attacks via barrel roll for some reason — and only goes down from there.
Here we have a case of one too many ideas being mixed in a bowl with largely unsatisfying results. Mark Wahlberg grudgingly returns as “wisecracking” inventor Cade Yeager and looks positively miserable in the role, while Laura Haddock, Josh Duhamel, and even Anthony Hopkins pop in to deliver flaccid exposition designed to move the “plot” to the next big set-piece.
That said, the action in The Last Knight, particularly in the final act, is quite spectacular, and Steve Jablonsky’s magnificent score is appropriately epic. Also, despite his overall lack of characterization (and complete disregard for snappy one-liners), Optimus Prime is still pretty damned awesome.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Revenge of the Fallen is one of those awful movies that I still somehow enjoy. The plot doesn’t make a lick of sense; and nearly every decision made — from Sam Witwicky’s transformation from plucky underdog to raging douche, the Spongebob twins who seemed to offend everyone and a bloated finale that willingly introduces the concept of robot angels — feels like the wrong one.
Yet, in terms of fun theater experiences, Revenge of the Fallen ranks high on the list. I saw the flick a handful of times with a packed house and everyone seemed to have a good time. There’s plenty to admire here, including that wild intro in which Optimus takes down a massive wheel thingy, and a forest battle where our noble metallic hero takes one for the team. Also, despite Sam’s horrible characterization, Shia LaBeouf delivers an admirably bats— crazy performance that somehow fits perfectly amongst the insanity, while Megan Fox is, well, Megan Fox.
No, this isn’t some overlooked gem that has aged gracefully over time — in fact, it’s worse than I remember — but credit must be given to Bay for having the balls to throw this heaping piece of scrap metal onto the big screen, particularly as the follow up to one of his best films. You can see the man struggling to make sense of his own chaos, which, more than any of his films, feels more disjointed than usual — and that’s saying something.
Revenge of the Fallen may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but, man, does Bay go down with the ship in an astonishing blaze of glory.
Transformers: Age of Extinction
Following the diminishing returns of the first three Transformers, Bay surprisingly attached himself to what was largely seen as a soft franchise reboot. You would think the man would bring something new to the table, but instead, Age of Extinction mostly lingers in overtly familiar territory.
Swapping LeBeouf for Wahlberg felt like the right move at the time, but the actor doesn’t mesh well with the suffocating CGI action and is mostly wasted in a thankless role. Also, at a bladder-blasting two hours and forty-five minutes, the would-be epic is far too long and needlessly convoluted. Optimus Prime has little to do but impart the occasional bit of wisdom, while his robot brethren (outside of the always reliable Bumblebee) have little to do but cater to stereotypes.
What’s shocking is how little any of our robot heroes have changed over a decade of nonstop war. Evidently, Transformers don’t suffer from PTSD. On the plus side, the finale set in Hong Kong is pretty damned spectacular, Stanley Tucci is hilarious, some of the action pops, and the pic’s robotic antagonist, Lockdown, makes for a menacing foe. Plus, Dinobots are cool.
Bad Boys remains, perhaps, Michael Bay’s only true film in the traditional sense. As in, it’s the lone picture in his sprawling oeuvre that follows a three-act structure, strives for something resembling characterization, and focuses more on plot (however convoluted) than whiz-bang action.
It’s also the least Michael Bay film on this list and the least ambitious of the lot, which knocks it down a few pegs in my book.
Yeah, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are fun in their respective roles, even if they’re mostly playing the same character — so much so that Téa Leoni can’t differentiate the two — in what amounts to a watered-down version of Lethal Weapon. Bay’s frenetic energy manages to move the plot from Point A to Point B without much fuss, while Mark Mancina’s kick-ass score drives the action with aplomb.
Bad Boys is certainly worth a look but is a tad overrated in my book and nowhere near as fun as its sequel.
Man, I really wanted to love 6 Underground. Michael Bay and Ryan Reynolds delivering a gonzo action epic free from studio restrictions on Netflix? Sign me up. Unfortunately, the final product fails to reach the glorious heights of Bay’s previous work and revels in grotesque violence far more than it should.
This being a Bay product, the cinematography is gorgeous and some of the action — notably a set piece on a ship involving any number of sharp objects and a giant f—ing magnet — genuinely excites. Reynolds brings his usual deadpan humor to the proceedings and is flanked by the lovely Mélanie Laurent and a handful of fun supporting players.
Unfortunately, as is the case with most Netflix productions, the scope is relatively small when compared to Bay’s more outlandish efforts. As such, the final product is enjoyable, but nowhere near as fun or spectacular as it should be.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
After the mixed reactions to Revenge of the Fallen, Bay and company pledged to go out with a bang in the third and “final” Transformers film, Dark of the Moon. While, yes, the results are undoubtedly more focused and refined than the bloated sequel, Dark of the Moon still features many of the same problems that have plagued all of Bay’s robots in disguise — namely, a general lack of focus and logic.
Negativity aside, I still really enjoy the pic for its stylish action, Shia LeBeouf’s insane performance, and some truly awesome visual FX. The Chicago-based third act is glorious to behold, while a sequence in a collapsing skyscraper is thrilling in and of itself. The pic lacks the heart of the original, but Bay’s action is more refined and easier to follow, and the comedy beats land a little better thanks to the likes of Alan Tudyk and John Turturro.
Plus, I missed Megan Fox. She has a certain appeal her replacement Rosie Huntington-Whiteley lacks.
Pain & Gain
Here’s the thing about Pain & Gain: I saw the dark comedy in theaters when it was first released, liked and even applauded it … but never had a desire to watch it again. While I’m usually game for Bay’s excessive style, Pain & Gain goes just a little too far for my liking. Plus, the whole based on a true story thing kinda freaked me out. I still respect Bay for trying something new and for giving Dwayne Johnson his juiciest (and funniest) role to date.
Even so, there’s an undercurrent of sadness in Pain & Gain that’s hard to shake. When Mark Wahlberg, who, along with Johnson and Anthony Mackie, attempts to kidnap, torture and extort a wealthy man named Victor Kershaw, quietly explains, “I just wanted what everyone else had — not more, just not the less I was used to,” you genuinely feel for the guy despite his overt stupidity and complete lack of humanity.
It isn’t Fargo, but I applaud the effort.
There’s so much to admire in The Island that it’s a shame the film never quite comes together as well as it should. The first half is certainly intriguing as we follow Ewan McGregor’s Lincoln and Scarlett Johansson’s Jordan in their day-to-day life in a futuristic society. Apparently, the outside world has fallen to ruin, leaving the survivors stuck inside a high-tech facility where they are closely monitored and occasionally selected (via a television model, no less) to join the remnants of society on a mysterious island.
As it turns out, Lincoln and Jordan are actually clones of other people, bred as a means of harvesting organs and/or other body parts should the original subject need them. Justifiably, the pair escape and find themselves being pursued by Sean Bean’s evil scientist and Djimon Hounsou’s violent team of mercenaries. Chases, shootouts, and action ensues, all of which look great.
… except, Bay unwisely abandons an intriguing concept in favor of generic set pieces. What could/should have been a Minority Report-styled thriller gets bogged down with the usual assortment of standoffs, fistfights, and explosions.
That’s not to say The Island isn’t good. In fact, it’s actually a lot of fun thanks to solid performances from its leads and Bay’s knack for moving things along at a rapid pace. Though, I still think this one could have found a place alongside some of the great ones had Bay trusted his screenplay a little more.
Yup, I did it. I ranked Pearl Harbor above eight other Michael Bay films. No, I’m not sorry. I actually enjoy Pearl Harbor quite a bit and always felt the film was unfairly panned by critics when it was released way back in 2001. In his defense, Bay was essentially ordered to deliver the next Titanic; and the man does what he can with a fairly rudimentary script that glosses over history in favor of hokey drama.
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Look, I get it. As a war film, Pearl Harbor mostly falls flat. Bay’s blockbuster sensibilities clash with the horrific true-life elements while the love story is poorly rendered, despite a great-looking cast. And yet, every year I find myself drawn to Bay’s epic drama at some point, mostly to enjoy that spectacular action sequence … which still packs quite the punch after all these years.
Is this cinema in its truest form? Not a chance. Does Pearl Harbor appropriately honor those that fell on that dreadful December morning? Nope. Is Pearl Harbor one of the great guilty pleasure films of all time? Absolutely.
As one character says, “It’s bulls—. But it’s very good bulls—.”
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi
Bay gets (mostly) serious with this dramatic and action-packed retelling of the 2012 Benghazi attack that resulted in the death of four Americans operating in Libya. Told from the perspective of the Annex Security Team (comprised of former Navy SEALs, Marines, and Army Rangers) who attempted to fight off a violent militant group, 13 Hours features an abundance of heart-stopping action and a stellar cast comprised of James Badge Dale and John Krasinski (leagues away from Jim Halpert), among others.
As was the case with Pearl Harbor, Bay’s style tends to overshadow the true-life elements inherent in the story. The film occasionally feels more like an extended Call of Duty campaign than an actual depiction of the horrific circumstances that took place that fateful night.
13 Hours certainly works as an action picture with fine performances and enough heart-wrenching drama to hold our attention, but never quite ascends to the level of, say, Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down. Even so, 13 Hours remains a solid entry in Bay’s vast body of work.
Bad Boys II
After Bay flopped with Pearl Harbor, which was criticized for its length, over-the-top style, silly characters, bad writing and overreliance on action, his response was to make Bad Boys II — a film that brings to the surface all of his best and worst traits as a director. But in a good way.
Bad Boys II is pure trash and Bay knows it. Nay, he leans into it. Whether it’s ogling the breasts of a dead woman’s corpse or staging a wild chase through a Cuban favela — it’s okay because the residents are apparently all drug manufacturers — Bay pushes Bayhem to its extremes and delivers one of the craziest action flicks ever produced.
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Seriously, the extended car chase that occurs early on is an astonishing bit of action filmmaking, while the insane climax in which Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, and a team comprised of agents from the DEA, TNT, CIA, and Coast Guard blast the holy s— out of a villain’s mansion is undeniably spectacular.
Sure, it’s mostly an empty spectacle, but that doesn’t stop Bay from caking the production with his oft-criticized style. If Pearl Harbor was Bay actually trying, Bad Boys II is Bay not giving a damn, and having an absolute blast doing what he does best.
I’ve taken a lot of heat over the years for openly admitting my fondness more Armageddon, Michael Bay’s rock’em, sock’em doomsday picture starring Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, and a scene-stealing Steve Buscemi, among others. Look, I get it. From a critical perspective, Armageddon is every bit the shlocky mess critics dubbed it to be back in 1998. It’s overlong, overproduced, overedited, poorly acted, loud and exhausting.
Yet, in terms of “turn your brain off at the door” blockbusters, Armageddon ranks among the best. The FX are spectacular, most of the action dazzles and the overt patriotism is contagious, particularly when viewed on a July 4 weekend. I’ll never label Armageddon as a great film, but I can’t lie about my feelings on the matter, either — as action flicks go, this movie is an absolute blast!
I need to let the hype down a little before I really sit down and figure out where to place Bay’s latest feature, Ambulance. After my first viewing, my thought was: that’s probably the man’s best film … And yet, that sounds like hyperbole, so I’m going to back off and place it in the third spot in between Armageddon and Transformers. For now.
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This movie was fun! The action dazzles, the camerawork (including all that wild drone footage) pops and the performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II are terrific, with the former clearly relishing the opportunity to go absolutely bonkers for two-plus hours. That said, this is very much Eiza González’s film. The actress dives into her role as ambulance EMT worker Cam Thompson with aplomb and enjoys the most satisfying character arc of the picture.
Bay’s frenetic style gets a little exhausting towards the end, and some of the action sequences are hard to follow as a result of the rapid cutting and largely handheld photography. Perhaps that was the point. Bay places us in the middle of this exciting story and dares us not to hold on for dear life.
Ambulance is the type of manic fun that is best on the big screen.
After unleashing Bayhem on the world with Bad Boys II and faceplanting at the box office with The Island, Bay regrouped and delivered one of his best flicks with 2007’s Transformers. The action extravaganza certainly carries many of the director’s patented trademarks, i.e. lots of explosions, heaps of obnoxious characters, in-your-face military propaganda, and an overabundance of product placement. And yet, here, that style meshes perfectly with the material.
It helps that executive producer Steve Spielberg infuses the film with his trademark sense of heart and wonder (something sorely lacking from the four sequels that followed) via Sam Witwicky’s relationship with his new car-cum-robot pal Bumblebee. Throw in a charming Megan Fox, a dazzling array of VFX, Steve Jablonsky’s triumphant score, and a jaw-dropping finale and you have yourself an absolutely thrilling bit of popcorn entertainment.
Cinemas have been saturated by numerous Die Hard wannabes over the years, but none were quite as effective as Michael Bay’s The Rock. Stars Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage deserve a majority of the praise for their pitch-perfect chemistry — the aged warrior matched with the “chemical superfreak” — but its Bay’s direction that really lends flavor to an otherwise routine script. In only his second big-screen gig, the man demonstrates a knack for testosterone-fueled action and wry humor — all of which would be grossly exaggerated in later films but serves a greater purpose here.
As such, The Rock moves from set piece to set piece with fluidity and style and entertains in a way few films can. Endlessly rewatchable and packed with excitement, this is one helluva piece of entertainment — and, for me, the perfect Michael Bay blockbuster.