Michael Bay gets a lot of criticism, and sure, some of it isn’t necessarily unreasonable. He’s made more than a few music videos, and his entire filmography is imbued with that stylish attitude. It’s all about excess, with bloated runtimes and spectacle. And yet, he absolutely knows how to handle ensemble casts, and unusually massive budgets. In fact, he’s helmed more than a few impressive action sequences, with stunning CGI and compelling scores.
But despite the public hate train, his films can alternate between guilty pleasures and genuine fun for many viewers. Let’s review how IMDb users ranked Michael Bay’s top 10 films and explore the ingredients that keep audiences coming back for more.
10 Pearl Harbor - 6.2
Check your accuracy at the door for this one. An interchangeable phrase for many of Bay’s films, to be sure, but this movie surprisingly avoids a history lesson. Instead, it opts for a sentimental love triangle, echoing similarly inaccurate, old school Hollywood romances.
The cast is full of small roles with big actors, like Dan Aykroyd, Michael Shannon and Cuba Gooding Jr. Pearl Harbor also features a remarkable, piano-oriented score by Hans Zimmer himself, arguably one of the most popular composers today. And yes, the action is jaw-dropping. The editor had a field day, like usual, but the infamous attack itself is a blitz. Bay’s tendencies function at their highest capacity when he intentionally aims to capture chaos.
9 Transformers: Dark Of The Moon - 6.2
It’s difficult to recall a time when Transformers was supposed to end. This gigantic conclusion to the original trilogy swung for the fences, desperately arguing for maximum action. Built for 3D, some sequences are pretty creative. The practical wingsuit drop was uniquely compelling, and even daring. Also, there’s a certain charm in watching successful, reputable actors have silly fun in this series.
Frances McDormand is a neat surprise, and even Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek fame plays the villainous Sentinel Prime. There’s no question that the sound design and visual effects completely delivered for Driller, the giant worm that even Arrakis would envy.
8 Pain & Gain - 6.4
It’s curious to think this film was supposed to be a passion project that Hollywood was suppressing. After all, it bears so many similarities to Bay’s other films, while one might expect some great departure that studios denied. However, it’s essentially the purest form of testosterone, a buddy comedy with bodybuilders, drugs and strip clubs.
The cast delivers the dark comedy that generally works. In fact, it’s probably the surprising strong suit of the movie, as the leads are both very comfortable with their comedic chops. Also, the true story angle might be appealing for some. It essentially serves as a perfect excuse for Bay’s habits.
7 Bad Boys II - 6.6
This gigantic sequel elaborates on the undeniable chemistry between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, and incorporates bigger action. The nine-minute Haitian chase is arguably some of Bay’s best chaos, concluding with his signature highway chase, throwing cars everywhere. Given the extensive CGI in most of Bay’s films, his ability to capture compelling physical stunts is easily forgotten.
However, rather than Bay’s spectacle, the story is entirely hinged on comedy. Which is utterly subjective, and in this case, predominantly juvenile. But audiences consistently respond to the buddy cop formula, and the leads are certainly charismatic.
6 Armageddon - 6.7
Bay loves explosions so much he put one in space, where there’s no oxygen. That’s the kind of film you’re dealing with. In fact, Armageddon desperately argues that learning to drill oil is harder than preparing for space itself. Nonetheless, it always made perfect sense for Bay to make a disaster film. It’s right up his alley, especially given his instincts for senseless carnage befalling an ensemble cast and shameless sentimentality. But the cast delivers some fun comedy, wielding a natural and infectious sense of camaraderie.
As usual, Bay rounded his cast out with fun character actors, like William Fichtner and Peter Stormare. They’re far more entertaining than the most elaborate special effects, though the film isn’t without some occasionally creative action.
5 The Island - 6.8
This is a genuinely underrated piece of sci-fi, a neat throwback to classics like Logan’s Run and THX 1138. Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson are plenty of fun in a story that’s split into two equal halves. The latter is a chase film—including a familiar highway scene and nifty hovercraft exploits. But the former half is an intriguing near-future premise, some of the most plausible fiction Bay has offered.
It’s a great surprise, even featuring some genuine horror. As usual, the cinematography is gorgeous, with a signature focus on natural lighting. And the score is one of Steve Jablonsky’s most unique and memorable works.
4 Bad Boys - 6.9
For an entire generation, Will Smith will perpetually be known as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. So it was pretty interesting to see him as a foul-mouthed, legitimate tough guy. The story itself is somewhat clichéd, but it harnesses terrific leads. The ability to reign everything in secured Bay’s entire career.
Bad Boys was his debut film, establishing every single habit that he’d consistently revisit. However, this was before his budgets allowed too much nonsensical bloating. As such, it feels tighter, resulting in more of a buddy cop movie than a Bay movie. In that way, this is one of his most accessible films.
3 Transformers - 7.0
This is the franchise that roped Bay in for a decade, and not without good reason. Bay was inherently suited for bringing a popular cartoon and toy line to life. More so than the majority of his films, this first installment really understood and appealed to its target demographic. There’s surprisingly ample time spent with humans, led by the talented Shia LaBeouf.
Sure, he’s had some strange headlines, but he’s proven equally skilled in comedy and drama. He sells a believable friendship with the memorable, playful Bumblebee. Jablonsky’s score is creative, and the visual effects are still exceptional. More so than the sequels, in fact. And above all, this movie knows exactly how to tap into guys’ inner child.
2 13 Hours - 7.3
Michael Bay has always had a particular fascination with the military, and here he delivers a genuinely solid true story. He’s certainly allowed a great deal of confusing action, but the soldiers’ situation innately lends itself to that. John Krasinski is a superb lead, though the entire cast make convincing everymen out of heroes.
The violence is appropriately graphic and gripping, and every cost is felt. There’s a real sincerity in Bay’s approach, which is a totally unique attitude given his filmography. Bay successfully captures the instability of the area and the sheer endurance of our military.
1 The Rock - 7.4
It’s always a delight when someone knows how to effectively let Nicolas Cage unleash The Cage. This is a classic action movie, often described as Die Hard on Alcatraz. But here, the terrorists are American military heroes, so the villains’ goals are uniquely sympathetic. It’s a fascinating moral argument. The motivation of every character is clear, so none of the action feels manufactured or superfluous. Well, apart from Connery’s extensive race to his daughter.
The pacing is on point, being swift and tidy. The biological threat is compelling, and a smart way to invite Cage’s pseudo-everyman. It’s an unapologetically 90’s film, with unadulterated masculinity, featuring nearly every kind of action the genre can offer.