Sadly, the term “Bayhem” is not in the dictionary.
If it was, the definition might go something like this: “A scene of total carnage, rampant destruction and utter mayhem in a Michael Bay movie caused by explosive measures, endless gunfire and/or transforming alien robots.”
Ever since the mid-1990s, when Bay went from directing music videos (for everyone from Tina Turner to Meat Loaf) to helming big-budget Jerry Bruckheimer productions, the filmmaker has perfected a signature touch with his action films. Want A-list star power? Check. Dig hero shots, closeups and busy camerawork? It’s all there. Don’t mind having your senses pounded? Because that’s totally happening. Some love his work, while others hate it, but one thing you can say: A Bay movie is rarely dull.
His latest, “Ambulance” (in theaters Friday), stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Jake Gyllenhaal as adoptive brothers teaming up to pull off a $32 million bank heist. To celebrate the return of Bayhem to the big screen, we’re ranking all of Bay’s flicks, from the worst “Transformers” to his best efforts back in the day.
15. ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’ (2009)
This blockbuster franchise is mostly comprised of bad films. How can you tell the really unfortunate one: It offers up a gigantic Transformer with a wrecking ball for genitalia, another one so old he needs a walker and two that exude offensive racial stereotypes. Oh, and don’t forget the sexy robot spy.
14. ‘Transformers: The Last Knight’ (2017)
Bay’s “Transformers” swan song dared to have Optimus Prime turn heel and fight his old Autobot pal Bumblebee. Sacrilege! Worse, Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins signed up to be apart of this cinematic nonsense that even a forced insertion of Arthurian legend can’t help.
13. ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’ (2014)
Let’s give him some credit: Bay finally brought in the fan-favorite Dinobots from our Gen X cartoon-loving youth. Mark Wahlberg also makes his franchise debut in a film that involves an organization creating evil Transformers and a trip to China that, come on now, seems to exist just to boost the international box office. And let’s not even get into whatever the heck “Transformium” is supposed to be.
12. “Pearl Harbor” (2001)
After so much good stuff in the 1990s, we got this war drama that won the battle scenes but lost with a melodramatic clunker of a plot. Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett are flyboy BFFs who love the same woman (Kate Beckinsale) – one dude gets with her when the other dies, and then that guy ends up alive, which makes everything awkward – in an infamously disappointing effort.
11. ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’ (2011)
We’re out of the dregs of the “Transformers” films and have finally reached watchability. This movie ties in the 1969 moon landing with the epic war between Autobots and Decepticons; Leonard Nimoy has his final major film role voicing Optimus’ predecessor Sentinel Prime; and the Decepticons’ Shockwave is as cool as he was in the ’80s.
10. ‘Bad Boys II’ (2003)
Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s chatty Miami cops return for a sequel that blows up more stuff than the enjoyable original, but bigger is not better here. At there. The lawmen tackle Russian gangsters, Cuban drug lords, the Ku Klux Klan and, yep, bro code when one starts dating the other’s sister (Gabrielle Union).
9. ‘The Island’ (2005)
Bay dove into some thought-provoking sci-fi with this thriller starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson as inhabitants of an isolated community who learn they’re clones. And a lottery system that sends lucky folks to an idyllic island is actually a front for organ harvesting and other bad stuff. They escape just in time for the film to return from smart futuristic drama to a noisy action-fest.
8. ‘6 Underground’ (2019)
Ryan Reynolds headlines as the billionaire leader of a secretive group of disparate people – including a soldier (Corey Hawkins) and a former CIA “spook” (Mélanie Laurent) – who fake their own deaths to take on international vigilante missions the government won’t . But this ain’t the A-Team. The film grows increasingly far-fetched and silly as the squad attempts to pull off a coup on a brutal tyrant.
7. ‘Transformers’ (2007)
Shia LaBeouf plays a teenager who finally gets a shot at his crush (Megan Fox) – just as they’re caught up in an ancient war between battling alien robot factions that arrive on Earth with a lot of destruction. The original is the best of Bay’s “Transformers” films, by a lot – admittedly a low bar – but it did successfully bring Hasbro’s 1980s toy-and-cartoon characters like Optimus Prime and Megatron back in a big way.
6. ‘Ambulance’ (2022)
This tense thriller is like a Bay greatest hits outing, with Mateen as an ex-Marine who needs money for his wife’s cancer surgery and gets embroiled with his criminal bro (Gyllenhaal) in a daring bank robbery. It goes very badly, as the pair hijacks an ambulance with an EMT (Eiza González) trying to save a wounded cop, and everybody tries to stay alive as a never-ending police chase charts a hellacious path through downtown LA.
5. ’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ (2016)
Based on the true story of the 2012 attack on a Libyan compound, Bay’s military thriller is not only extremely intense but also surprisingly moving and personal. John Krasinski plays a former Navy SEAL who puts his family life on hold to lead a security crew of former soldiers (including James Badge Dale and Pablo Schreiber) as they try to stave off an all-out assault by Islamic militants.
4. ‘Pain & Gain’ (2013)
Dwayne Johnson seems genetically engineered to be the perfect Bay movie star. So it’s interesting that this dark action comedy, based on a true story, is more of a dramatic showcase for him as Johnson, Wahlberg and future Marvel regular Anthony Mackie play a trio of ex-con bodybuilders embroiled in a kidnapping and extortion scheme that goes very wrong.
3. ‘Bad Boys’ (1995)
Buddy-cop comedy meets “The Odd Couple” with identity-switching and lots of things that go boom. Will Smith’s the cool Miami cop and Martin Lawrence is his family-man partner as they fight, bicker, investigate the disappearance of $100 million worth of heroin and try to keep Tea Leoni safe from a ticked-off drug kingpin. The film made Smith a bona fide action star and Lawrence a big-screen commodity.
2. ‘Armageddon’ (1998)
When a Texas-sized asteroid is headed toward us, of course, you want Bruce Willis and Affleck leading a group of oil drillers into space to do a “Road Runner thrust move” around Earth, land on the invading cosmic junk and blow it up with a nuclear weapon. The film’s just ludicrous and earnest enough to work and, as Aerosmith so accurately points out, you don’t want to miss a thing.
1. ‘The Rock (1996)
Sean Connery essentially plays a James Bond who’s been rotting in prison for decades, Nicolas Cage is a jittery FBI chemist and the twosome break into Alcatraz to stop a bunch of rogue military dudes from shooting rockets filled with deadly nerve gas at San Francisco. (If only 007 had this cool a film.) An all-time piece of macho cinema that has no right being this excellent.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism