Ranked: Michael Bay Productions from Worst To Best

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In honor of the new Transformers, we take on the king of explosions.

Over the years, Michael Bay's films have grossed more than three billion dollars. And they needed to, in order to recoup the cost of all those hundreds of buildings that Bay blew up along the way. The director, who Wikipedia tells us is "known for his special effects," has recently been campaigning for 3D — the chosen style of his latest Transformers movie, out this Friday — to try to convince more Americans that it's worth it to pay three extra dollars to really see all that destruction flying straight into their faces. In honor of his effort, we ranked all of the films he directed, from worst to best. And then counted all the explosions, just for the hell of it.   

8. Pearl Harbor (2004)
Explosion Count: 81

It takes a special kind of genius to reduce one of the twentieth century's most significant events to a Ben Affleck-Josh Hartnett-Kate Beckinsale love triangle which is somehow resolved by the fire-bombing of Tokyo. It takes a very special kind of genius to pack that love story with more than eighty explosions, and to make that monstrosity drag on for three hours. From dialogue to pacing to casting to plot, Pearl Harbor effectively serves as a step-by-step guide for what not to do when making a movie. Judging by the campy cinematography and awkward dialogue, you'd think Bay hired the writers and crew of his favorite Spanish soap. I can't say it better than Matt Stone and Trey Parker sang it: "I miss you more than Michael Bay missed the mark when he made Pearl Harbor. And that's an awful lot, girl."  


7. Transformers II (2009)
Explosion Count: 67

The sequel to 2007's picks up the coming-of-age story of Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), who is now off to college without his girlfriend or his transforming car. This time, it's up to Sam to find a mystical artifact which holds the key to the destruction of earth at the hands of evil transformers. Sound familiar? It shouldn't, as long as you haven't seen the first Transformers. The highlight of this movie is not the irritating adolescent saga (part deux) of the determined but in-over-his-head Witwicky. Nor is it the patent and shameless exploitation of Megan Fox and her "acting talent.” No, the highlight (or lowlight, as it were) comes in the form of two jive-talking, comic-relief Autobots named Skids and Mudflap, who curiously have gold teeth and can't read. (I wonder why some people were offended.) This movie was a strong contender for dead last, but we have to admit that explosions look better in IMAX 3D.    


6. Bad Boys II (2003)
Explosion Count: 18

Is there some immutable section of the Miami Police code that requires detectives to keep their Hawaiian shirts unbuttoned? An unfortunate attempt to cash in on a recycled idea, Bad Boys II somehow takes over two-and-a-half hours to play out its weak premise. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are back as the mismatched detective duo keeping the streets of Miami free of ecstasy and taking down Cuban drug dealers. They are heroes — who literally demolish the homes and livelihoods of dozens of innocent, impoverished Cuban citizens in the film's totally kickass ending chase. With the subtlety and grace of a boner in sweatpants, this one is tough to watch, even for the most irony-minded or masochistic of fans — there are bad action movies, and there are bad action movies, and there is Bad Boys II.   


5. Transformers (2007)
Explosion Count: 40

This movie is responsible for the acting career of Megan Fox, and also has the dubious honor of cementing Shia LeBeouf as the obnoxious everyteen who dates girls like Megan Fox. And yet, next to its predecessor, it is positively brilliant. John Turturro gives a solid effort as a super secret government bureaucrat, but he isn't enough to keep the movie afloat. Still, in spite of its shortcomings, we must acknowledge that not every movie is supposed to win the Academy Award — and on a hot summer afternoon, you might rather watch the Hoover Dam crumble in a ball of flames than watch Natalie Portman freaking out at the ballet. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more visually impressive blockbuster, and with more than forty on-screen explosions, you’re still getting your money’s worth. 


4. Armageddon (1998)
Explosion Count: 55

Despite being released at nearly the same time as another (superior) movie (Deep Impact) with practically the same premise, Armageddon did remarkably well at the box office. The disaster-movie formula is as predictable as it is repeatable — this time, it happens to be a giant asteroid threatening life on earth as we know it, and humanity's only hope lies with the sexy, grizzled mug of Bruce Willis and his crew of All-American oil drillers, whose job it is to drill a hole in the asteroid and drop a nuke in it. Every moment of flimsy character development is just an opportunity for things to go wrong later, and despite solid performances from a solid cast (including a comically stereotypical Russian cosmonaut played by Peter Stormare), the formula feels stale. Still, there are those who fondly remember this movie as an important moment in cinema; if for nothing else, at least to mark the point when Michael Bay discovered that an explosion by itself could be considered a premise for a movie. 


3. The Island (2005)
Explosion Count: 9

This dystopian sci-fi thriller in the mold of classics like Logan's Run was a surprising box-office flop despite an all-star cast that included the likes of Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, and Sean Bean, with a little Steve Buscemi thrown in for good measure. Given that The Island concerns two drop-dead beautiful people running from the authorities for two hours, I'm surprised more people aren't fans of this slightly less noisy offering. (Showing remarkable restraint, Bay keeps the number of explosions in the single digits.) The dialogue is plain as dirt and the storyline as subtle as a jackhammer — but if the idea of a Mexican standoff involving two Ewan McGregors and a bounty-hunting Djimon Hounsou doesn't scare you too much, there is an enjoyable movie to be found here.  


2. Bad Boys (1995)
Explosion Count: 16

A buddy-cop action comedy that stars Martin Lawrence and a pre-buff-action-hero Will Smith, Bad Boys rightly deserves a place on the mantle of action classics. I'm not saying it isn't formulaic, or explosive, but here Bay strikes a solid balance between comic bickering and the pyrotechnics that would eventually become his trademark. Take two detectives on the verge of losing their jobs, throw in a just-slutty-enough murder witness (Tea Leoni), one case of mistaken identity, and a minor kidnapping, and you've got a pretty decent movie. Michael Bay can deliver an entertaining product, as long as you don't think about it too hard.


1. The Rock (1996)
Explosion Count: 15

Fans love The Rock, and critics love to hate it. Few movies swing this dramatically between intense violence and over-the-top goofiness. This movie has something for everyone — a post-Oscar-action-binge Nicolas Cage, a patriotic and honorable Ed Harris, and the ever-sexy Sean Connery with his trademark Scottish brogue, and cruise missiles loaded with deadly nerve gas. For action-movie buffs and fans of Elton John alike, The Rock is chock full of explosions that will leave you floored and scenes that will leave you scratching your head, but always wanting more.