As much as I would love to attack Michael Bay's production company and how it lacks character, this best list strictly focuses on Bay behind the camera. Most of these films will not be good, but are better than some others lurking in his filmography.
10. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Once a trilogy goes downhill the best thing you can hope for it to end. Transformers: Dark of the Moon was to be that final nail in the coffin for the franchise, and with good cause. Each film in the Transformers series grew and grew in stakes and size, eventually leading to a worldwide assault from the Decepticons. Unfortunately the visuals weren't as glamorous as people expected. Bay overly utilizes two colors in each of his films: Orange and Blue. It gets pretty old, pretty quick and for Dark of the Moon, there were a near three hours of orange and blue colors mixed with explosions and a running, whiny Shia LaBeouf.
9. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
One successful film in a franchise does not guarantee more successful films. Fortunately, if you're Michael Bay and you know how to add glitz and glam to your pictures, you'll do just fine. It took the Transformers franchise one film to go from hopeful contender to crappy, heartless and greedy juggernaut. The characters aren't developed beyond the previous Transformers, the stakes are raised higher to the point of near absurdity, and Shia LaBeouf has perfected his ADHD, screaming, running, and whining.
8. The Island
It's truly better to forget than to remember. I remember all the films that have come on this list prior to The Island, but I barely recall this film. The Island is a film to leave on when you need background noise. Nothing should be wrong with it. There's Sean Bean, Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson, and some pretty decent sets. It's an awkward romance and prison escape story. It creates a perfectly subtle futuristic world (a precursor to the dozens of crappy young-adult adaptations), but it's just very forgettable with bland cinematography and boring dialogue.
7. Pearl Harbor
Around the time Pearl Harbor was released, Hollywood was already on the war train. Pearl Harbor was a simple sign of the times. However, the film took focus away from World War II and placed focus on a catastrophically boring love triangle. Poorly written romance aside, Pearl Harbor is a cinematic war epic that stirs emotion. This is Bay's first big budget action film and when the action comes it pays off. This is also one of very few films to not use Bay's classic orange and blue hues. You might enjoy the action if you can get through two hours of Kate Beckinsale deciding on Josh Hartnett or Ben Affleck.
6. Pain And Gain
There seemed to be huge anticipation before this film came out. It was primarily because this was the first non-Transformer film Michael Bay had directed in a long time. Many fans felt that Bay was going back to simplicity. Pain and Gain was a fun true-life story that Bay seemed to enjoy creating. The characters were well developed, there was a good balance between dark comedy and seriousness, and Bay was able to incorporate his classic slow motion shots and glitzy scenes. Pain and Gain was another film that featured few of Bay's classic color schemes. However, Bay directs this film as chaotic as a Transformers movie and the comedy backfires in the shadow of this being based on a real story.
5. The Rock
Before you become a blockbuster king, you jump around and discover what you like and what you don't like. Bay's sophomore film set in San Francisco was just that: A self-discovery. Bay works best when he has a small-to-mid sized cast of characters and over-the-top characters that can work well with the over-the-top film style of Bay. Who knew that Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage would have chemistry? Bay did, apparently. The two are a match made in action hero heaven. The story is simple and Bay doesn't have the chaotic filmmaking mentality that he would eventually grow into. Instead, Bay is a risk taker. He tries breaking boundaries by bringing together as much nonsense as he can, weaving it into something quite watchable.
Transformers is a fun and action-packed adventure for the teenage mind. He has a mission from a studio and he completes that mission with force, comedy, and an amateur Shia LaBeouf. The visual effects are superb. The robot feel real. The sets are unusual, but work. The robots have as much character as the humans and the cinematography is full on orange and blue. There's slow motion, massive firework-style ground level explosions, and interestingly enough...simplicity.
3. Bad Boys
Will Smith as an action star? Michael Bay had a lot of guts to place television's funniest star as the lead in this R-rated action film. Bad Boys is a superb buddy cop action comedy. The chemistry between Smith and Lawrence is astounding and the action is simple. Bad Boys is Michael Bay's first feature film and one of his best. There are moments when story is set aside for a shirtless Will Smith or pointless gun fights, but that would eventually be part of the Bay style that many have come to love and hate.
So many quotes. An Aerosmith song. Oil drillers in space! Armageddon was the highest grossing film in its time for a reason. The cast is filled with lovable '90s big shot actors, the dialogue is strong in the places it needs to be, and the message of being able to do anything is uplifting. Sure, oil drillers going to space in a few weeks is a bit crazy, but the message it conveys to the people is timeless.
1. Bad Boys 2
This film raises the stakes and brings Bay into full fledged action mode. All of Bay's strengths are presented throughout and very few of his weaknesses are shown. Smith and Lawrence are comfortable and knowledgeable about what they are doing. Each scene flows smoothly while Bay creates a carefully constructed chaotic mess. This is Bay's fifth film, and his incoming style shows all over. Slow motion shots, heroic sunlit shots, orange hued cinematography, and over-the-top action pieces.
Consensus: There aren't really many good Michael Bay films out there. Even the top three I picked are pretty bad in many areas. The Bad Boys franchise and Armageddon are driven from nostalgia. All his films are messes, but all of them entertain. Bay is a people's director. He directs escapist films. If Bay gives anything back to society, it is the message that you can be anything. Oil drillers turned astronauts. High school boys turned into saviors of the Earth. Nicholas Cage turned into a good actor.
What is your favorite Michael Bay movie?
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