Every Michael Bay Movie, Ranked

Auteur theory is the idea that directors are the authors of their films, resulting in identifiable styles and themes from movie to movie. It was originally applied to filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock and Jerry Lewis — don't laugh, it's true –  and is used today to describe the works of Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino. If we're being honest, though, it should just as frequently be applied to Michael Bay.

Watch any single minute of a Bay movie and it's instantly recognizable as the work of a sentient condom dispenser on a day pass from an art school fraternity house. His films are slathered in flesh, chrome, and military fetishism; he's prone to recycling himself in his editing and staging; his love of Crotch angles (like a Dutch angle but aimed upwards at heroes and women in short skirts) is unparalleled. Viewers are rarely allowed to sit still thanks to pans, glides, zooms, shakes, quick cuts, and Bay's insistence that tightly controlled chaos reign supreme. For better or worse, you simply can't mistake a Bay film as one belonging to anyone else.

Bay's 15th feature is due early next year from Netflix, but keep reading for our objectively accurate ranking of Michael Bay's 14 films so far, from worst to best.

14. Transformers: The Last Knight (2017)

The "Transformers" films began as a franchise aimed almost exclusively at horny teenagers with short attention spans and C-grade averages. That's not a knock — "dumb" kids with bikini posters on their walls deserve entertainment, too — but the films' charms beyond that were limited. "Age of Extinction" saw that goal mature slightly as Bay dialed back the "sexy" angle, and "The Last Knight" continues that trend ... even if his camera and costume department do make some inappropriate calls with 17-year-old Isabela Merced (who's playing three years younger).

The film's issues, though, are legion. The storyline is convoluted and doubles back on previous truths, characters are barely crafted, and large chunks of it feel far removed from the real world. What feels like 70 hours of exposition are stuffed into its 149-minutes, and while a couple characters from the LaBeouf years return, they can't stop the movie from feeling so completely disconnected from anything we remotely care about. An absurd amount of dialogue and constantly shifting aspect ratios compete in their efforts to dull and distract your senses, and the film ultimately feels like one that would have benefited from stripping away the Transformers elements altogether.

13. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

Bay isn't exactly a filmmaker known for displaying a fun sense of humor. His movies frequently try to be funny, but that humor is often cheesy and unsuccessful in its attempts at tickling funny bones. None of them, however, are as furiously and aggressively unfunny as "Revenge of the Fallen." Bay's attempt at winning over the children with newcomers Skids and Mudflap is a misfire of racially offensive proportions. Both are designed and voiced with Black stereotypes in mind, and their every utterance makes you dumber and meaner by the second. Bay has since "apologized" — and blamed the 2007-2008 writer's strike — for whatever that's worth.

On the plus side, those metallic minstrels are minor supporting characters. The bulk of it is filled with Shia LaBeouf's shenanigans at college (where all the girls are obviously hot!), his interactions with his parents and girlfriend, and lots of bot action. The body count rises dramatically from the first film, albeit in the form of nameless hordes caught in traffic incidents or dying on U.S. ships, and the scale feels immense at times. If that's all you need in a Transformers movie, then you're in luck.

12. Pearl Harbor (2001)

While many of Bay's movies are cohesive messes, this one is evenly split between what works and what doesn't. What works, unsurprisingly, is the action. Say what you will about Bay's talents, but the man gives his all when it comes to crafting action set-pieces. Those skills are put to excellent use here as nearly one third of this three-hour monster is devoted to the attack on Pearl Harbor and other moments of conflict. Stunt work, CG, and filmmaking prowess combine to deliver some harrowing, thrilling, and exciting conflagrations of bullets, bombs, and bodies.

Of course, that still leaves an unforgivable two hours to fill, and the film chooses to do so with the least intriguing love triangle since Kristen Stewart had to choose between glitter pants and dog boy. Ben Affleck, Kate Beckinsale, and Josh Hartnett are all talented, but Bay's attempt at sappy and sincere just rings hackneyed and hollow. Even Bay's patriotic fervor, usually relegated to a few slow motion flag waves and military hero shots, stumbles here as he tries to jam his square love of America into the round hole of history.

11. Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

I don't see how anyone can claim to love movies but dislike one featuring Stanley Tucci and Li Bingbing racing through Hong Kong together on a motorbike. Sure, it's only one small part of this insanely long movie, but there's a certain begrudging respect due to a madman like Bay for creating the kind of playground that would allow it in the first place. And just when you think the nonsense can't continue, he throws freaking Dinobots onto the screen too.

"Age of Extinction" continues the Transformers story but jettisons any returning human characters. The bots are back, obviously, but Shia LaBeouf is gone and replaced by Mark Wahlberg. It's a questionable trade, charisma-wise, but Wahlberg handles the toned-down humor and physical antics just fine. The story touches on corporations bringing about the end of humankind, and that "Terminator" influence carries over to the new man-made bots that feel inspired by the T-1000. The CG is frequently fantastic, Bay lets go of his trademarked military love, and there's some solid character-play amid the numerous action set-pieces. Still, though, it is offensively long, and "additional music by Imagine Dragons" isn't the bonus Bay thinks it is.

10. Transformers (2007)

It's probably not wise to suggest that the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a good thing for anyone aside from American military contractors, but it was just that for Hollywood and Michael Bay. Executives were planning to make a "G.I. Joe" movie, but worried about the optics after the invasion, Hasbro representatives suggested a "Transformers" film instead. The idea found traction, and now it's a nearly five billion-dollar franchise.

This first live-action feature in the series sees Bay bring the popular children's toy to big, action-heavy life with some pretty impressive (for the time) visuals. They pale beside later entries, but at the time this was a brand new kind of eye candy. The film disposes of backstory in fast fashion before quickly locking down Bay's preferred tone, a mix of cheesy humor, metal on metal destruction, and Axe Body Spray. Bay's goofiness struggles sometimes as he tries to appeal to young viewers, but he finds a big plus in Shia LaBeouf, who does a lot of the film's heavy lifting here bringing both personality and charm into an otherwise impersonal mix. It's still overlong — at 143 minutes it's actually the shortest of the five films — but it works just well enough.

9. Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

What does it take to be the best "Transformers" movie? Aside from not being directed by Bay ("Bumblebee" hive unite!), the answer is complicated — and it's a bumpy road getting there thanks to some mild gay panic, a cameo by Bill O'Reilly, some terribly unfunny comic relief named Wheelie & Brains, and a Megan Fox replacement, who's basically skim milk in a thong. When "Dark of the Moon" works, though, it's an entertaining time.

Decepticons start killing human collaborators, and it brings a new threat to the carnage that typically unfolds from a distance. The films have always been prone to high body counts, but here we see them more closely as bodies fly through the air, slam lifeless into the ground, and vaporize into ash. The last hour unleashes nothing short of the destruction of Chicago, and it more than rivals the devastation delivered by the best of Roland Emmerich. The wingsuit sequence is breathtaking, the tilting stages are thrilling, and the vehicular chases see some epic stunt work explode across the roadways. And not for nothing, but Shia LaBeouf is fantastically entertaining here with some stellar line delivery, reactions, and physical comedy. He's a damn delight.

8. Bad Boys II (2003)

"Bad Boys II" is the epitome of a sequel that goes bigger and louder and ends up getting lost in its own excesses. At nearly two and a half hours, the bloat is evident as story and action are repeatedly paused for "comedic banter." Ideally it would be funny, but unfortunately it's a mix of angry yelling about their dysfunctional friendship, racially-tinged insults and humor (the n-word is dropped multiple times, something the original manages to avoid), and outright distraction. Don't be surprised if you forget the story they're chasing at any given moment — dangerous Ecstasy pills! Cash in corpses! A kidnapped sister! — because Bay does the same.

Of course, all of that having been said? The action is frenetic fun. Sure, it's also ridiculous, mean, and filled with unaddressed collateral damage, but there's a place in action cinema for stylistic carnage without consequence. Bay orchestrates some wild car chases, shootouts, and more (he even rips off Jackie Chan's "Police Story" in the process). It's big, explosive Bayhem that overstays its welcome even as it delivers blasts of guilt-free nonsense. This followed the deservedly maligned "Pearl Harbor," and you can almost see it as Bay's intentionally unhinged and childish response to the drubbing.

7. 6 Underground (2019)

"6 Underground" is stuffed with more Michael Bay than a Victoria's Secret model auditioning for the next "Transformers" film. It makes sense that Bay's most recent movie would be the most Bay movie ever, a culmination of lessons learned and immediately discarded, a collision of flesh and death as giddy entertainment. It is everything his critics despise and fans love — nonsensical story, hyper-editing, casual racism, characters lacking humanity, women as objects, and carnage inflicted on people, places, and things. If you're in the right headspace, though, it can also be a little fun.

Ryan Reynolds fakes his own death, assembles a team, targets a dictator, and unleashes an intricate yet massively flawed plan resulting in car chases, gunfights, high-rise-infiltrations, and magnet-related shenanigans on an enormous yacht. Bay channels the early 2000s by bringing parkour back to the screen and delivering an opening car chase that feels like a "Grand Theft Auto" adaptation, complete with ragdoll physics as bodies are smashed, crushed, and sent flying through the air. If the action doesn't induce whiplash, the flashbacks and flashforwards just might. It's a big, messy, beautifully shot splash to the face with Bay's creative juices. There is no pretense here, there is only Bay.

6. Armageddon (1998)

"Armageddon" is, for many people, the ultimate Bay movie, as all of his trademarks are here alongside a big name cast and a storyline that literally blasts off into space. It's exactly the film he intended to make, and the end result is ridiculous, thrilling, goofy, and just affecting enough in its final reel to end on a high note and leave audiences satisfied that every dollar and ounce of artistic intent is right there on the screen.

The story sees oil drillers hastily trained for a mission on an approaching asteroid to plant bombs beneath its crust (Don't ask why they didn't just train astronauts to drill instead, as Bay's response is succinct). Personalities clash, accidents happen, and the world is saved from impending destruction. The science is wonky, but nobody cares — this is a big-budget disaster epic that manages both spectacle and personality thanks to the likes of Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Steve Buscemi, Will Patton, Billy Bob Thornton, Liv Tyler, and more. "Armageddon" is especially divisive among Bay's filmography. Roger Ebert hated it, saying it's the world's "first 150-minute trailer," but on the other hand, the Criterion Collection released the movie on DVD in 1999. Who to believe? Believe your heart.

5. Bad Boys (1995)

Bay's sensibilities as a filmmaker are already on full display with his feature debut; his first movie screams "music video director" with its orange and blue tints, fast cuts, and shaky smash-zooms. What matters, though, is that he still delivers some entertaining sizzle. Car chases, shoot outs, slow-motion runs with flapping shirts and glistening skin — "Bad Boys" is a '90s music video where the only singing comes when its two leads give brief, comedically timed voice to the Inner Circle song behind the title.

The action genre is filled with buddy cop movies blending set-pieces, banter, and conflicting personalities, and this one stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. Both actors showcase their comedy skills while also dipping their toes into action for the first time, and they succeed at delivering a solidly entertaining action/comedy in the process. Tea Leoni deserves some of the credit as a likably sassy third wheel, while Joe Pantoliano is wonderfully exasperated as the fed-up police captain. It can't touch buddy cop greats like "Lethal Weapon" or "48 Hours," and — as with the "Transformers" movies — I'd suggest that the best of the franchise is the one Bay didn't direct, but "Bad Boys" succeeds with style and thrills to spare.

4. The Island (2005)

One of the legitimate issues with Bay's filmography is the tendency of his characters to be simpletons and/or one-note caricatures. One of the many charms of "The Island" is that this issue is deftly handled upfront by making its lead characters idiots by design. They're clones raised as organ factories for when their human counterparts need a heart or lung replaced, and their journey here is essentially a coming-of-age tale as two such clones escape into the chaos of the real world.

It's an understatement to say that people hate this movie, and its placement so high on this list will most likely get me disinvited from many parties, but I'm ethically bound to speak my truths. It's a rare Bay film where the cheesy humor works, and the combination of a game cast and some stellar action sequences makes it a terrific ride. Scarlett Johansson and Ewan McGregor play the clones whose arrival into the world leaves epic chaos and spectacular destruction in their wake, and the fun they're having is communicable. The destructive freeway chase is an all-timer — Bay even recycled entire beats for a "Transformers" film six years later — and the action throughout is equally thrilling. Give it another chance, people!

3. 13 Hours (2016)

Bay doesn't typically make movies that feel grounded, and that might be part of the reason "13 Hours" tanked with audiences upon release. Apparently learning from the many failings of "Pearl Harbor," Bay's second attempt at retelling a historical event keeps a tight focus on the characters and action, and the result is one of his best films. The action feels deadly and realistic even as it entertains, and that's no small feat for the filmmaker behind, well, every other movie on this list.

John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Max Martini, and others star as private contractors working a CIA security detail in Libya, and what unfolds is the story of these and other men when faced with incredible odds. The 2012 attack on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi is portrayed as a cluster of bad choices leading up to and during the assault. Bay teases political commentary, but his focus remains on the heroism displayed by the team and others under incredible circumstances. It's a harrowing, affecting watch delivering both visceral action thrills and an awareness that these were real people. Regardless of your personal politics, "13 Hours" is one of the great siege films.

2. Pain & Gain (2013)

I'm not sure what it says about the author of this list, but three of the top four entries here rank among Bay's lowest-grossing efforts. I'm not wrong, general audiences are wrong! "Pain & Gain" is another film based on true events, but this time Bay's focus is on a true crime case rather than military history, and the results are immensely entertaining. As with "The Island," the usual Bay simpletons have reason behind their existence — these idiots are real people.

Three bodybuilders in Florida attempt a get-rich-quick scheme involving kidnapping and extortion, but they become their own worst enemies as their every decision comes back to bite them on the ass. Mark Wahlberg — an acting giant when it comes to playing stupid — is joined by Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie as "monuments to physical perfection" who just might be lacking oxygen to the brain. It's funny and tragic in equal measure, and paired with Bay's pacing and editing it becomes a wild ride for fans of true crime.

1. The Rock (1996)

Was there ever any doubt that "The Rock" would secure the top spot here? Bay's second film — only his second! — delivers thrills both explosive and emotional with a smart story, engaging characters, and a stellar cast. It's one of the decade's best action films, hands down, and it remains one of Bay's most critically-acclaimed releases, too.

Nicolas Cage is a nerd roped into helping stop a hostage situation/terrorist attack on Alcatraz Island, and he's joined by Sean Connery as the only person to ever escape the prison and survive. Both are automatically fun characters brought to glorious life by the actors, but their opponent is no less worthy; Ed Harris plays the group's leader — one of those villains whose motivation is difficult to disagree with — as a complex man of honor. The character dynamics are the best Bay's ever wrangled, and he pairs it with some terrifically exciting action beats, as well. This is a blockbuster built on characters, sharp writing, and tangible action, and it is undeniably Bay's best film.