Michael Bay once claimed that he makes movies for teenage boys. Sure, it’s true that some of his films are geared toward that audience, but he really undersold himself in that self-analysis. In reality, Bay is an auteur with an instantly recognizable style that defined action blockbusters in the ‘90s and early 2000s. The director hasn’t exactly fallen off the map since those glory days either and has maintained a mostly consistent level of commercial success throughout his career.
Of course, Bay’s movies aren’t for everyone. They’re loud, chaotic, unrestrained, and unabashedly commercial. They can also be viewed as very juvenile and lowbrow. Bayhem is something you either enjoy or don’t. But he has still has two movies in the Criterion Collection: The Rock (1996) and Armageddon (1998), and his contributions to cinema have inspired everyone from James Cameron to Edgar Wright to The Bitter Script Reader. He’s winning.
Even people who don’t like Bay’s movies tend to acknowledge that he’s made a couple of good ones in his time. He also directed the iconic Aaron Burr TV commercial that popularized the phrase “Got milk?”, which is now considered a cultural touchstone.
All in all, Bay has a fascinating oeuvre that deserves to be discussed. So, without further ado, we present to you this ranking of his entire filmography.
14. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
Remember when Michael Bay started feeling himself a little too much following the success of Transformers, which was written hastily around the 2007-08 Writers Guild of America strike, and he included a moment in this sequel in which a massive Decepticon with big swinging testicles climbs a pyramid in Egypt? If you don’t remember that, then you’ve won the game. Of all the Michael Bay movies, this is the one not to see first… or ever. (Neil Miller)
13. Transformers: The Last Knight (2017)
Can you believe Michael Bay spent a decade of his life making five Transformers movies? Sure, he squeezed two better movies onto the screen in between with Pain & Gain (2013) and 13 Hours (2016), but imagine what this extremely technically proficient filmmaker could have delivered if he wasn’t spending most of his time working cash grabs. That loss for genre cinema isn’t quite on par with James Cameron completely disappearing into the world of his CG-rendered Ferngully remakes for the past ten years, but it still stings. Bay said he was done with the franchise several times, but it took this fifth film — the most expensive of the series — delivering the lowest box-office returns and negative critical appreciation for him to actually walk away. It was too late for the rest of us, sadly, as this is the cinematic definition of a noisy clusterfuck. Mark Wahlberg returns as Cade Yeager, but the bigger crime is a backstory involving King Arthur and Merlin because seriously. Does it surprise you that Akiva Goldsman had a hand in the screenplay most likely flinging poo in the writer’s room? It shouldn’t. (Rob Hunter)
12. Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)
“Rebooting” the Transformers franchise to focus on a new ensemble was perhaps the best thing that Bay could have done to make these films something resembling fun after Shia Lebeouf angrily dragged himself through two sequels. But it’s not like Bay wanted to return either. He was coaxed back into the director’s chair with a little encouragement from Steven Spielberg and what I can only imagine was a very large dump truck of money, but once there, he got to work in creating one of the most fun entries in the franchise. That was in part because of Mark Wahlberg, who was fresh off of his perfect turn in Bay’s Pain & Gain, and is at his best when staring wide-eyed at green screens. Age of Extinction also added a much more vibrant color palette than its predecessors that echoes the cartoony visuals of the OG series and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot which came out the same year. Plus, you get Evil Frasier, Stanley Tucci tuccin’ his heart out, “That Guy from Bosch” boschin’ the shit outta people, mother fucking DINOBOTS, and Jack Reynor who is just straight up begging to be placed in a bear costume and consumed by fire. Age of Extinction has the distinction of being the Transformers film that gets the closest to nailing that human-to-Autobot dynamic that the original animated show did so well. This isn’t “Criterion Collection Michael Bay”, but dammit if it isn’t a bucketful of popcorn fun. (Jacob Trussell)
11. Pearl Harbor (2001)
Before Pearl Harbor, Bay had shown glimpses of his romantic side. However, this was the movie in which he leaned fully into a love story, albeit one that takes place during the infamous 1941 attack by Japanese air forces. The love story itself — involving Ben Affleck, Kate Beckinsale, and Josh Hartnett’s military characters — is quite banal, but when the action arrives, the movie packs more than its fair share of thrills. Pearl Harbor was Bay’s attempt to make a Titanic-style movie set during World War II, and he was more than happy to glance over historical accuracy in favor of sappy emotional beats and delivering torpedo carnage the Bay way. (Kieran Fisher)