What Happened to Michael Bay?

When strolling through the Criterion Collection, one can be sure to find the work of many filmmaking auteurs like Hitchcock, Godard, Kurosawa, Fellini, Bergman, Truffaut… and Bay! That’s right, tell your friendly neighborhood cinema snob that Michael Bay has two films in the Criterion Collection and watch their heads explode like…well like a Michael Bay movie.

and one thing is for sure: Michael Bay knows how to blow stuff up real good! Story can often times seem secondary as long as they get the perfect shot…. which often features some of that sweet sweet product placement or that sweet sweet red white and blue. And with his epic fast paced use of movement and scale, Bay has become a genre unto himself, affectionately dubbed Bayhem. But with the Transformer movies in his rearview and an under-performing effort in 2022, its time we figure out just What Happened to Michael Bay!

But as always we must begin at the beginning and the beginning began on his birthday, February 17, 1965 in Los Angeles and was then adopted at just two weeks old. Bay grew up with a healthy appreciation for the film world and he would pursue that passion and at the age of 15 ended up working as an intern with George Lucas for Raiders of the Lost Ark, Bay says that when he saw the final film in theaters, it was so good that he knew he wanted to be a director. He would attend Wesleyan University, majoring in English and Film and would soon after get started working in the world of commercials and music videos.

After directing a video for the film Days of Thunder, producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson kept him in mind to direct a new buddy cop action film that was originally meant to star Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz titled Bulletproof Hearts. Eventually the film would cast two new leads who were more familiar to audiences of the small screen and undergo a title change: Bad Boys starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. It was Bay’s “fly by the seed of your pants” shooting style that yielded the films biggest moments as the now iconic 360 dolly hero shot was something Bay thought up on the way to set one morning, he must have liked it though as he has repeated that exact shot in nearly every one of his movies ever since! Bay even funded the entire explosive ending as the studio, Sony, refused to give the budget any more than its allotted $19 million. It also showed Bay’s eye for visuals. The film would go on to gross over $141 million worldwide but would be Bay’s introduction to finicky movie critics who said the film was too loud with more explosions than story.

With the financial success of Bad Boys, Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson hired Bay to direct their next film, a high octane movie about a man who takes Alcatraz hostage called The RockThis epic masterpiece had a bit of a troubled production with Walt Disney executives not liking the mounting budget but Sean Connery stepped in and said the Bay is doing a wonderful job and to give them more money! And thank god Connery did stand up for Bay, because The Rock is one of the best action films ever made in my most humble of opinions. It featured an early iconic performance by Nicolas Cage and Connery, with many people saying his character is clearly an older James Bond. The film would garner Bay with some solid reviews from critics who called it a first rate, slam bang action thriller with lots of style while it would be Bay’s second blockbuster in a row as The Rock garnered over $335 million worldwide and even got an Oscar Nomination for Best Sound.

Grosses would stay high, even if critical reception wouldn’t, with Bay’s next film: Armageddon (1998). The film would garner horrible reviews with the consensus being that it looked great but lacked any intelligence or substance. But that didn’t matter to audiences as they helped this movie take in a massive $553.7 million worldwide when it was released on July 1, 1998 while the film would receive 4 Academy Award nominations for Best Original Song, Best Sound &Sound Effects and Visual Effects while also winning Michael Bay the best director award from the Saturn Awards and of course being nominated for 7 Razzie Awards including Worst Director and Worst Picture.

He would continue his string of box office successes with Pearl Harbor, that seemed to be the tale of two movies. Most people thought the depiction of the actual attack was done quite masterfully, but the rest of the movie was an overlong wannabe Titanic. He shot 1 million feet of film and Pearl Harbor has the distinct honor of being the only film to ever be nominated for Worst Picture at the Razzie Awards to also Win an Academy Award, as it did for Best Sound Editing.

In 2003, Bay would take on his first sequel with Bad Boys II that some critics hailed as the worst film of 2003 while others were able to appreciate it as simple mindless fun. Of course audiences and their hard earned cash are all that matters, and it represented yet another financial hit for the master of destruction as it took in over $273 million worldwide. In 2005, Bay would venture out from his very lucrative collaborations with Jerry Bruckheimer and start a lucrative relationship with one Mr. Steven Spielberg. Sadly for this first collaboration, The Island was not a financially successful film, Bay’s first true misfire as it was only able to grab $162.9 million off a $126 million budget. While critics called it a generic clone of films such as THX-1138 and Logan’s Run but with the added loud bombastic flair of a Michael “Bayhem” film. Although Roger Ebert was one of the critics who genuinely loved the film saying it had two halves, a creepy science fiction film followed by a high tech action film and they both work.

Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg were about to embark on a new film that would launch a multi billion dollar franchise. The film was Transformers. In 2005, Steven Spielberg who was executive producing the film, personally asked Michael Bay to direct the film, but Bay scoffed, calling it a “Stupid toy movie.” Of course his desire to work with Spielberg had him go visit Hasbro where he was impressed with the concept for the film, however he felt the first draft of the script was “too kiddie” and had them amp up the military presence. Bay would even take a reduced salary to work on the film to help keep the budget down, which is listed at around $150 million while some say it was around $200 million. Bay would keep cutting costs by filming entirely in the United States and even re-using footage from his other films just with some added CGI. It would all pay off, financially at least, as the first Transformers would gross nearly $710 million worldwide while the film was so very close to being certified fresh, as it topped out at a 58% from critics who found the characters to be lacking while the action and effects were top notch. Winning the MTV Movie Award for Best Movie.

Bay must have enjoyed making these movies because the next two films he directed were Transformers movies. First up would be 2009’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen that although many people question the quality of any Michael Bay script, this one had it particularly hard as it went into production with just a treatment that was handed in just minutes before the 2007-2008 Writer’s Strike, which meant that in the early stages of the films development, no Writers Guild of America member could work on the script until a new deal was reached. Of course none of that mattered when the film was released on June 24, 2009 and ultimately made over $836 million at the worldwide box office proving it was critic proof as it was Bay’s worst reviewed movie… at the time! Revenge of the Fallen would go on to win three Razzie Awards including Worst Picture and Worst Director while also netting Bay an Alliance of Women Film Journalists Award nomination as he was nominated for the Sexist Pig Award! In 2011, Bay would return for the final Shia LaBeouf fronted Transformers film with Transformers: Dark of the Moon. The film would continue critics hatred of the franchise as they again said the visuals were impressive but not enough to forgive a thin script, but audiences once again couldn’t have cared less what critics thought as they spent their hard earned money on the film to the tune of $1.1 Billion dollars worldwide with the director again nominated for Worst Director at the Razzie’s.

Bay needed a break from giant robots, so he set out to make a smaller, more personal film that is based on a wildly unbelievable true story, something the film reminds us several times during its run time. He would collaborate with Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson on the R rated Pain and Gain. That’s right, the director of The Rock made a film with The Rock. Critics would actually praise the script but say that Bay wasn’t the right director for the story with some saying he glorified what the real life murderers did. Bay and the lead actors would work for scale in order to keep the budget on the film down while taking a cut of any back end profits, despite not being a billion dollar grosser, this little slice of alleged historically inaccurate filmmaking did manage $86.2 million worldwide of a $26 million budget that was funded by Paramount as a way to entice Bay to come back for another Transformers movie which he did the following year, reuniting with Mark Wahlberg for Transformers: Age of Extinction. The film was again trashed by critics, but by now it should be obvious that if a movie says “A Michael Bay Film” it is going to be slammed, but what matters is if the audience digs it, and they sure did! Age of Extinction would gross another $1.1 billion worldwide while also becoming the highest grossing film ever in China at the time. With Bay taking home the Razzie for Worst Director.

In between Transformer films, Bay would take on another true story, this time the war story 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. Despite still not garnering Bay actual praise from critics, many said this was his most mature film yet, but that it still suffered from an over- reliance on explosions. Despite being a really solid film about a night that has lived in infamy, it would be one of the few Michael Bay movies to actually lose money as it only managed to secure $69 million against a $50 million budget before marketing costs. But then Bay could always come back the guaranteed money maker that is a Transformer movie, and he did that with 2017’s Transformers: The Last Knight which currently ranks as Michael Bay’s worst reviewed movie at just 16% on Rotten Tomatoes, even more surprising, the film is reported to have lost Paramount over $100 million, signaling that audiences may have begun growing tired of the Bayhem Transformers films. This would be the last Transformer film Bay directed, deciding to hand the reigns over to new fresh voices for films like Bumblebee and Transformers: Rise of the Beasts while retaining a producer credit.

Michael Bay, Transformers

Michael Bay is a director that demands the big screen, so it was a bit weird that his next film 6 Underground would premiere exclusively on streaming service Netflix. But it did because Netflix threw $150 million at Bay and told him to do whatever he wanted. And what resulted was one of the Most Michael Bay movies to ever Michael Bay! The opening car chase alone is just pure Michael Bayhem and the second half is pretty dang fun too! I say if you are gonna be Michael Bay, you better be the most Michael Bay ever, so the more Michael Bay we get in a Michael Bay movie, the more I dig the movie! Critics hated it yet audiences ate it up with over 83 million members watching it in its first month of release. Despite the viewing numbers, critical reception saw Netflix cancel a planned sequel.

After not directing the third Bad Boys film: Bad Boys For Life, he would lend his hand to the Pandemic set film Songbird when he directed some of the action sequences for the film, but he would return to the big screen in 2022 with the high octane film Ambulance that would actually become his best reviewed film to date with critics saying that it proved that there is room for Bay type films in the marketplace and that audiences would miss him if he vanished from Hollywood, and wouldn’t you know it, with great reviews like that, it represents Bay’s lowest grossing film ever, taking in just $52.3 million off a $40 million budget before marketing costs. Proving to everyone that Mr. Bay still got it!

In 2011 GQ printed an article titled “The Oral History of Michael Bay, The Most Explosive Director of All Time.” And through several pages of interviews with his collaborators from Will Smith to Scarlett Johansson to Steven Spielberg to his own Mother, an image of a man that everyone genuinely loves and respects emerged. A man with distinct visual style, a style that allows anyone watching to know they are watching a “Michael Bay” movie within minutes, something very few filmmakers have achieved. Love him or hate him, the dude is an artist with a vision and a voice. He has had arguments with many of his lead stars, and yet they are the first ones to come to his defense and say how much they loved working with him, just that he does it a bit differently than other directors they have worked with. Michael Bay is a genre unto himself and for the most part audiences show up for his films, because if nothing else they know they are going to get something really cool to look at on a giant screen. He is a filmmaker who knows how to compose his shots, it is why he is often times an uncredited camera operator on his films and why nine times out of ten, he is in the action right alongside his actors. To some it may seem like Bay is not a good filmmaker, but it is quite the opposite, if you study his shots, you see a man who is in complete control of every aspect of his films. Luckily, we still have more to come as Bay is currently working on several projects including directing a pilot for an untitled Bounty Hunter series with his name currently attached to direct the big screen adaptation of hit novel Robopocalypse that is still in the very early stages of development. With those projects in the pipeline and a happy yet simple life in Miami with his 3 dogs, it sounds like no one should give a fuck WTF happened to Michael Bay, because he has always been and will continue to be just fine!

Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/what-happened-to-michael-bay/