The new car chase spectacle Ambulance marks the return of Michael Bay. Some people will meet that news with a shrug of indifference, while others will instantly be overjoyed that Bayhem is about to come back to the big screen in all of its glory.
The former are wrong, the latter are right. More than $5 billion in box office receipts shows just how popular the director is. Michael Bay is what blockbuster spectacle is all about. In fact, even in his worst films there is still something to fawn over and be blown away by. While, at their best, his frenetic, action-packed features never give you a moment's rest and are pure escapism.
But which Michael Bay film stands above the rest as the best example of his divisive brand of cinema? Let's take a look at every Michael Bay directed film to see which is the true master of Bayhem.
15. Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen
The worst edition of Michael Bay’s Transformers universe, Revenge Of The Fallen, might only be the second instalment of the franchise, but, somehow, everyone involved already seems tired and out of ideas. Even the robots. Everything that made Transformers so good is gone, with Michael Bay leaning too heavily special effects and a complete lack of humanity as the film tries to outdo its predecessor with huge, outrageous set-pieces that count for nothing because we’re not invested. It wasn’t all Bay’s fault, as the 2007-2008 Writers’ Strike left the director and Paramount scrambling to put a script together. Which doesn’t really explain why it still clocks in at the mind-numbing 149 minutes.
14. Pearl Harbor
Michael Bay’s most famously egregious film, Pearl Harbor suffers mostly because of its needlessly long 183-minute run time. It doesn’t help that Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, and Kate Beckinsale’s love triangle is so dull and turgid. Pearl Harbor also struggles simply because of its bastardisation of one of America’s most traumatic moments, as Bay and his team go overboard with their use of artistic license, despite the fact that there were apparently many Pearl Harbor survivors of the set of the movie. Still, even in this mess there are some truly stunning action sequences, especially the attack on Pearl Harbor itself. It’s just a shame that it’s sandwiched between an awful script and a tepid love story.
13. Transformers: The Last Knight
What will almost certainly be Michael Bay's final Transformers film, though far from the final Transformers film overall. This wasn't his worst effort in the franchise, but it was far from his best. While Transformers: The Last Knight avoided the cringeworthy human subplot of "Adam and Eve laws," it was otherwise complete gibberish. It created all sorts of crazy new lore that seemed more designed to build its own cinematic universe than to actually make a decent film in its own right. The robot fighting action was maybe some of the best in the franchise, but it's hard to remember what they were fighting about.
12. Transformers: Dark Of The Moon
Here’s where the Transformers franchise’s dire reputation overshadows what is actually a decent blockbuster, which, while still failing to match the efforts of the original, more than makes up for the horrors of the first sequel. Once again, Michael Bay’s love of a long running time means that Dark Of The Moon’s final act borders on the unbearable, but the hugely impressive special effects and its use of 3D all make the action sequences truly captivating. There’s also a semblance of a good story in there, too, and the appearances of John Turturo, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Alan Tudyk, and Ken Jeung keep you warm even in the darkest moments.
11. The Island
Probably Michael Bay’s most ambitious film, The Island is a sci-fi action thriller that pays homage to the likes of THX 1138, Fahrenheit 51, and Logan’s Run. It also pairs Ewan McGregor with Scarlet Johansson, who form an impressive leading team, while Michael Clarke Duncan and Sean Bean offer formidable support. Unfortunately, Bay’s ambition gets the better of him, and it was roundly acknowledged that The Island is basically two films in one; one half is a sci-fi adventure with attempted existential themes, while the other is the rollicking action film that we expect from Bay. Each are OK on their own, but together it doesn’t quite work.
10. Transformers: Age Of Extinction
With Shia LaBeouf deciding to move onto new artistic pastures, the Transformers franchise continued on with Mark Wahlberg, something even Michael Bay now admits was maybe not the best idea. In the leading role in Age Of Extinction, and the Pain & Gain actor actually brings a fresh new dynamic to the series. Instead of LaBeouf’s whiny and, by the end, annoying Sam Whitwicky, Wahlberg is much stronger and forthright, with his overbearing protection of his daughter actually giving more weight to Bay’s usual brand of CGI-heavy spectacle. This is also improved upon by transporting the final third to China, and proves every film ever should really include Stanley Tucci.
9. Bad Boys
Released just a year before Independence Day, Bad Boys proved that Will Smith was going to be a big deal, and it shines because of his contagious camaraderie with Martin Lawrence, which is bromance at its most glorious. Michael Bay deserves recognition for basically throwing out the dialogue of the original script and encouraging Smith and Lawrence to improvise, all of which adds to the genuine affection between the pair. Sure, Bad Boys features many of the same traits as other buddy cop films, but Bay’s visceral style perfectly meshes with Lawrence and Smith’s dynamic to make it unique. The only thing lacking was a coherent story, but it still delivers exactly what it sets out to achieve.
8. 6 Underground
6 Underground isn't a great Michael Bay movie, nor is it a terrible one. It absolutely is a Michael Bay movie in all its glory, with all the action and spectacle that comes with that, and it opens with a pretty solid car chase sequence. After that, unfortunately, it just feels a bit more "by the numbers," like Bay is just providing what he knows is expected of him. Ryan Reynolds is almost always fun, and that's certainly the case here, but you know what you're getting from him here as well.
7. Pain & Gain
After three Transformers films in a row, Michael Bay left Megatron, Optimus Prime and Bumblebee behind for Pain & Gain, and the tremendous leading trifecta of Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, and Anthony Mackie, with Rebel Wilson, Tony Shaloub, and Ed Harris supporting superbly. Unfortunately, while Pain & Gain gets off to a raucous start, and even ends strongly, it sags badly in the middle. Thankfully, there’s enough in its opening and closing to stop it from being a total catastrophe, while the supreme cast constantly keep it captivating and funny. But without action set pieces to fall back on, a more violent than usual Bay seems a little lost.
6. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi
With another Transformers film done and dusted, Michael Bay's 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi proves that he can create much more affecting action sequences with humans rather than robots. Bay also shows restraint by not sexing up or glamorizing this real-life war story, and the chaotic nature of the Benghazi debacle actually lends itself to his own fast, frenetic, and borderline incoherent direction. But Bay still makes sure that there is enough spectacle and action for audiences to adore, and his entertaining and gregarious style is sprinkled throughout the film. He also takes advantage of the R-rating in gory and gritty fashion.
5. Bad Boys 2
Released to overwhelmingly negative reviews from cinematic purists back in 2003, Bay Boys 2 is mindless, over-the-top Michael Bay fun at its very, very best; this is high-octane, deafeningly loud, and so fast you’ll feel sick trying to keep up. Its triumph is in just how proudly exaggerated and overblown it is. It’s too long but never boring, ridiculous but still enthralling, and extremely funny when it needs to be, with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence immediately back on form in the leading roles. Bad Boys 2 is everything that blockbuster Hollywood cinema should be, and the most clear cut bit of evidence yet that Michael Bay makes sure you get your money’s worth.
Michael Bay's newest movie is perhaps one of his best. It's a much smaller scale action story than what we're used to getting from the man, but the movie never skimps on the action. While the Ambulance cast is absolutely tiny compared to many Bay movies, it's still one of his strongest with heavy hitters like Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II leading the charge. Nearly the entire movie is a car chase, but the excitement never lets up, leading to one of Michael Bay's most thrilling movies.
Released just 2 months after Deep Impact, Armageddon became the highest grossing film of 1998 and its success in the face of the more scientifically accurate asteroid-impact film proves just how in sync Michael Bay is with a mainstream audience. Credit to the pitch-perfect casting, because the team of Bruce Willis, Liv Tyler, Ben Affleck, Billy Bob Thornton, Michael Clarke Duncan, Owen Wilson, Will Patton, and Steve Buscemi each sell the fact that the world is on the cusp of ending. Meanwhile, Michael Bay seemingly forgoes coherent scientific explanation to ramp up the emotion, terror, and tension of the situation, and the gung-ho nature of the film’s 16-week production actually dovetails nicely into the finished film. It's rollercoaster cinema, with ups and downs on a track that you can see unfolding far off in the distance, but it's still one heck of a ride. However, it turns out maybe Michael Bay's plan for blowing up asteroids wasn't that crazy after all.
Michael Bay once proudly told Slate Magazine that he makes movies for teenage boys. Anyone looking for evidence of what he means simply needs to be pointed in the direction of Transformers. Shia LaBeouf is perfect as the kooky, funny, and under-appreciated kid that we all think we are, who is able to land the impossibly sexy Megan Fox through his charisma and personality alone. Plus, LaBeouf’s Sam Whitwicky is thrown into an adventure with robots disguised as gorgeous cars an ends up saving the world. Michael Bay’s Transformers direction is Spielbergian, as the story’s point of view is resonantly told firmly through LaBeouf’s gaze, while he also keeps the geography of his action scenes simple for the audience to digest while still making sure they’re genuinely spell-binding. Transformers’ stunning visual effects make all this possible, and while its plot is still firmly by-the-book you’ll be having too much fun to care.
1. The Rock
Michael Bay’s finest achievement as a director so far, The Rock, is right up there with Speed, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, The Matrix, Con Air, and Heat as the best action film of the 1990s. In just his second go as director, Michael Bay was able to transfer the frantic, frenzied pace of his music videos and commercials to the big-screen in a slick and truly thrilling style. Working from a tight, funny, and well-rounded screenplay, which was rewritten by both Quentin Tarantino and Aaron Sorkin, Bay creates a captivating rhythm and directs with a coherent panache that is sadly missing from some of his later work. The Rock is also buoyed by another Bay trait, impressive special effects, while Sean Connery and Nicholas Cage are dynamic as the leading pair. Hollywood blockbuster cinema at its very best, and the ultimate proof that Michael Bay really does deserve to be celebrated.
With 15 feature directorial efforts, Michael Bay hasn't made nearly as many movies as some, but nearly all of his films end up being memorable. He almost certainly is far from done as a director, so we can be confident that more over the top action is on the way. Where it will all rank among Michael Bay's best, we'll have to wait and see.