Director Michael Bay’s unique brand of cinematic mayhem returns to theaters next week when Transformers: Age of Extinction — the fourth installment in the highly profitable Transformers film franchise — makes its debut on June 27. Unlike the three previous Transformers films, Transformers: Age of Extinction will not star Shia LaBeouf, but will instead feature Mark Wahlberg as the primary non-computer-generated protagonist. Like its predecessors, the latest Hasbro robot-based action flick is expected to be a commercial success, and some movie industry commentators are already hailing it as the first potential mega-hit of the summer.
While Bay has an enviable track record of success when it comes to accumulating box office receipts, his movies are typically panned by most film critics. Besides being widely derided for a directing style that tends to revolve around slow-motion shots of explosions and people running away, Bay has also been accused of using misogynistic and racist characters in his films. However, when it comes to the commercial aspect of movies, even Bay’s harshest critics have to admit that whether he’s rewriting the history of World War II or sending Bruce Willis into space, Bay has an undeniable talent for knowing what will attract moviegoers into theaters. With that in mind, here’s a look at the seven biggest blockbusters directed by Michael Bay.
7. The Rock (1996)
The Rock was the second feature film directed by Michael Bay after 1995’s Bad Boys. According to Box Office Mojo, The Rock brought in a solid $134 million in total unadjusted domestic gross on an estimated production budget of $75 million. Besides qualifying as another one of Bay’s commercially successful films, The Rock has the added distinction of being the director’s highest rated film. It currently holds a 67 percent approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes, while the audience rating stands at a respectable 86 percent.
“Director Michael Bay orchestrates the elements into an efficient and exciting movie, with some big laughs, sensational special effects sequences, and sustained suspense,” noted Roger Ebert . Many reviewers also cited the contributions of the film’s impressive cast that includes Sean Connery, Ed Harris, Michael Biehn, and Nicholas Cage. While none of the actors’ performances rose to Oscar-worthy levels, the film did garner an Academy Award nomination for Best Sound Mixing.
6. Bad Boys II (2003)
The sequel to 1995’s Bad Boys brought in a respectable $138.6 million in total unadjusted domestic gross, albeit on an estimated production budget of $130 million, according to Box Office Mojo. Like the original film, Bad Boys II stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence as Miami police detectives with a penchant for mass destruction.
While Bad Boys II was still considered a commercial success — especially when the $134.7 million worldwide gross is included — the film sparked criticism for its misogynistic portrayal of women and violence-laced humor. The critics at Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a dismal 23 percent approval rating and described the movie as “Two and a half hours of explosions and witless banter.” Roger Ebert seemed to sum up the general critical perception of this film when he observed, “Everybody involved in this project needs to do some community service.”
5. Pearl Harbor (2001)
It’s hard to determine who was more appalled by Michael Bay’s take on of one of the most famous battles of World War II: historians or film critics. As noted by Roger Ebert, “The filmmakers seem to have aimed the film at an audience that may not have heard of Pearl Harbor, or perhaps even of World War Two.” However, despite its many historical inaccuracies and unfavorable reviews, Pearl Harbor was a blockbuster hit at the time of its release. According to Box Office Mojo, Pearl Harbor pulled in a total unadjusted domestic gross of $198.5 million on an estimated budget of $140 million.
The film’s large ensemble cast includes Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Jon Voight, Alec Baldwin, and Tom Sizemore. Despite its title, Pearl Harbor is essentially a romantic drama film that focuses on a love triangle among several American characters. Citing the “laughably bad dialogue,” critics at Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 25 percent approval rating.
4. Armageddon (1998)
Before Ben Affleck took to the sky in WW II-era airplanes in Pearl Harbor, he flew into outer space in a shuttle in Armageddon. While Armageddon fared even better at the box office than Pearl Harbor did, it received an equally harsh reception from the critics. “The movie is an assault on the eyes, the ears, the brain, common sense and the human desire to be entertained,” wrote Roger Ebert. “No matter what they’re charging to get in, it’s worth more to get out.”
Despite the warning, plenty of people paid to get in to Armageddon in the summer of 1998, and the film ended up with the second-highest unadjusted domestic gross of the year at $201.6 million, only slightly less than the $216.5 million that Saving Private Ryan took in, according to Box Office Mojo. Armageddon’s box office take also topped Deep Impact; the summer’s other comet-collision disaster movie.
3. Transformers (2007)
This smash hit movie kicked off the highly-successful Transformers film series and cemented Bay’s status as a blockbuster film maker. According to Box Office Mojo, Transformers brought in a total unadjusted domestic gross of $319.2 million, over twice its production budget of $150 million. While many reviewers pointed out the usual Michael Bay movie faults — crude humor, clunky dialogue, and an overreliance on explosive special effects — even the director’s harshest critics admitted that Transformers was an enjoyable visual spectacle. “I think Michael Bay sometimes sucks (Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, Bad Boys II) but I find it possible to love him for a movie like Transformers,” wrote Roger Ebert.
2. Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)
The third installment in the Transformers film franchise brought in a total unadjusted domestic gross of $352.4 million on a budget of $195 million, according to Box Office Mojo. While Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, John Turturro, and many other cast members from the first two films returned for Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Megan Fox was replaced in the main female protagonist role by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. However, as seen in the trailer above, the usual over-the-top robot battle sequences and CGI-powered special effects remained.
1. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
While the second installment in the Transformers film franchise achieved the highest gross of any movie in Michael Bay’s filmography, it is also one of the most critically panned. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen has the lowest critical rating of any Michael Bay-directed film on Rotten Tomatoes with a current approval rating of only 19 percent. Some film critics — such as The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis — criticized the film for its inclusion of two robot characters that appear to be based on offensive racial stereotypes.
However, money talks louder than any film critic, and the money that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen made at the box office seems to be screaming for Bay to make more movies like this one. According to Box Office Mojo, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen pulled in over $402 million in total unadjusted domestic gross with a production budget of $200 million.
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