Michael Bay got his start working on music videos but soon graduated to the big time, creating one big-scale disaster after another, in some of the largest blockbusters of the nineties and aughts. Working with superstars including Tom Cruise, Sean Connery, and Nicolas Cage, Bay breathed new life into action-movie staples like car chases and hostage crises. It’s his sense of how to create these larger-than-life moments that makes Bay a success. So which of the many spectacles he’s created ranks as the greatest? Here’s one take.
1. The Rock (1996)
In one of the best car chases of all time, Bay treats us to rapid-fire shots of a yellow Ferrari pursuing a black Hummer, back when people still called them “Humvees.” If that scene isn’t enough, the explosions aren’t hoarded for the big finale; in The Rock, they occur constantly. Bay’s at his absolute best, creating endless excitement and even creating a character out of the landscape: one of San Francisco’s trademark hills sends not one or two but five vehicles sailing toward the sky in perfectly choreographed succession.
2. Transformers (2007)
Say what you will about the movie’s tendency to lean in the direction of a car ad, but you have to respect Bay’s ability to create real U.S.-versus-aliens drama out of the neat-o gadgets that revolutionized eighties playtime. Sure, the robots are a chaos of shifting parts, but isn’t that the point? Out of plastic toys currently residing in attics across the country Bay makes real-to-life robotic movie-stars. Not too shabby, right? Bonus: Transformers gave rise to a then-unknown, soon-to-be worshiped goddess named Megan Fox.
3. Armageddon (1998)
Sure, Armageddon has more than its fair share of cheesy interludes — thanks, Aerosmith — but Bay pieces together an accurate representation of America’s attitude leading up to the new millennium: there’s a good chance we’re all going to die. As Bruce Willis leads slo-mo strutting oil drillers into space, armed with roughneck attitudes, you can’t help but cheer along. Bay ratchets up the drama scene by scene, killing off main characters and waiting until the last possible second to reveal whether the Earth will be saved.
4. The Island (2005)
This movie was nearly universally ignored, and many point to a formulaic plot and overabundance of explosions as particularly loathsome qualities. Hogwash! Critics like that take the easy way out. There’s a lot to love: Bay brings a futuristic nightmare to life as well as anyone. And watching a metallic-bodysuit-clad Scarlett Johansson run through an idyllic island, fleeing an ugly organ-donor fate, isn’t exactly a bad way to spend a couple of hours.
5. Bad Boys (1995)
Bad Boys hurdles completely out of control — in a good way. Bay’s movie brings a kind of energy and style that is rarely seen in the buddy-cop genre — think Lethal Weapon, with a cooler soundtrack and a bad attitude. The nonstop banter between Martin Lawrence and Will Smith is authentic and genuinely funny, and, if that’s not enough, Bad Boys is the reason Will Smith is an action hero, not just that funny guy with big ears from The Fresh Prince.
1. Pearl Harbor (2001)
A production with the biggest budget ever commissioned at the time, and it shows (dozens of warships, hundreds of planes, millions of extras). Despite heavy-handed patriotism and a clichéd love story, Bay’s version of that fateful day is the best to date.
2. Bad Boys II (2003)
Like many action sequels, this flick is more of the same. Still, there are great car chases (an airborne vehicle buzzing by, inches overhead) and smooth chemistry between Smith and Lawrence.
3. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
Talk about a cool contrast: Bay shows the pyramids and the Brooklyn Bridge — state-of-the-art creations, in their days — dominated by his futuristic machines.