Ever since he emerged from an incredibly successful commercial and music video career, director Michael Bay made some of the biggest, loudest and highest-grossing movies of all time. While he certainly made a lot of money for his studio bosses, Bay earned considerable scorn from critics and other detractors, who deplored his testosterone-fueled action vehicles that were full of incessantly moving camerawork and frenetic editing, as well as short on story and three dimensional characters. Bay first made waves in the commercial world with his CLIO-winning "Got Milk?" ad campaign, while helping to reinvigorating the music career of artists like Donny Osmond with high-end music video work. But he made his biggest splash - which included a healthy amount of criticism - with his first movie, "Bad Boys" (1995), which featured tons of car chases, snappy one-liners and flying bullets. He followed his successful Hollywood entrée with "The Rock" (1996), a high-octane action thriller that had as many fans as it did critics. Bay was roundly criticized for the impossible-to-believe "Armageddon" (1998), which centered around a space shuttle landing on an asteroid hurtling toward Earth, while his take on "Pearl Harbor" (2001) drew fire for its lazy accounting of historical events and overly sappy love story. Despite his detractors, Bay's movies were big box office earners until he made "The Island" (2005), which not only became his first flop, but also generated a lawsuit for allegedly ripping off the plot of an obscure 1976 movie. Bay bounced back, however, with "Transformers" (2007), a highly-successful and positively received adaptation the 1980s cartoon that spawned several sequels and retained Bay's title as being one of Hollywood's biggest hit makers.
Born on Feb. 17, 1965 in Los Angeles, Bay was raised by his adoptive father, Jim, an accountant, and his adoptive mother, Harriet, a bookstore owner and former child psychiatrist. When he was just a kid, Bay began making 8mm shorts with his family's camera, and even got into some trouble after exploding a toy train with firecrackers, which set fire to the curtains and attracted fire trucks to his house. At 15, he scored an office internship at Lucasfilm and attempted to absorb whatever he could, especially the storyboards for "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981). Meanwhile, Bay attended the prestigious Crossroads High School in Santa Monica and later went to Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, where he won the Frank Capra Award for his short film "Benjamin's Birthday" before earning his bachelor's in film in 1986. Following graduation from Wesleyan, Bay attempted to gain entrée into the master's program at the University of Southern California, but was rejected. He moved on to the lesser known Art College Center of Design in Pasadena where, among his film projects, he made a 90-second World War II-inspired ad for Coca-Cola.
Bay's lavish ad attracted the attention of Capitol Records, which hired the 24-year-old to direct the comeback video for Donny Osmond's single, "Soldier of Love" (1989), which helped reinvigorate the singer's then-stalled career. From there, Bay became a regular director for Propaganda Films, where he helmed music videos for Tina Turner, Meat Loaf, Wilson Phillips and The DiVynals. He soon branched out into television commercials, directing spots for Nike, Coca-Cola and Miller Light. Bay was also responsible for the famed "Got Milk?" ad featuring an Aaron Burr-assassination buff (Sean Whalen), whose mouthful of peanut butter and a lack of milk prevents him from answering the trivia question of a lifetime. The spot earned Bay a CLIO Award in 1994, as well as a Silver Lion at that year's Cannes International Advertising Festival. His credentials were burnished further in 1994 when he received the Directors Guild of America Award for his commercial work, which inevitably led to him attracting the attention of Hollywood filmmakers. They came knocking in the form of producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, who had previously been impressed with the director's work on the music video for their race car movie, "Days of Thunder" (1990).
At the age of 30, Bay crossed over to features to direct "Bad Boys" (1995), a action comedy about two bickering cops (Martin Lawrence and Will Smith) on the trail of a French drug kingpin (Tchéky Karyo) who leaves a trail of bodies after making off with $100 million worth of heroin. Bay demonstrated an ability to stage impressive action sequences, but like many filmmakers from the commercial/music video world, he relied on fast-paced editing and frenetic camerawork, albeit at the expense of the story and characterizations. However, audiences were impressed enough with the buddy movie to shell out some $70 million-plus in domestic box office and over $160 million worldwide, turning Bay's first feature outing into an unqualified hit. He continued his successful transition with "The Rock" (1996), a high-action thriller about an San Francisco-based FBI chemist (Nicolas Cage) and a former British spy (Sean Connery) who are recruited to infiltrate Alcatraz island, where a crazed Marine general (Ed Harris) holds people hostage and threatens to gas the city while demanding reparations for the families of fellow Marines killed in covert operations. Visually engaging and packed with explosions, flying bullets and chaotic chases, "The Rock" was again short on plausible plot lines or three-dimensional characters but it translated into huge box office numbers for Bay and made an action hero out of Cage.
Bay upped the testosterone for his next action flick, "Armageddon" (1998), which followed a rough-and-tumble crew of oil workers led by the world's top driller (Bruce Willis) on their impossible task of landing a space shuttle on an asteroid hurtling toward Earth in order to drill an 800-foot hole and blow it up with a nuclear warhead. Despite the wildly implausible plot - even refuted by Bay himself - and the underutilization of stars like Steve Buscemi, Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler, "Armageddon" was a smashing success both domestically and internationally. For his next movie, Bay undertook a project that he hoped would dampen criticism that he was nothing more than a special effects-driven director. That project turned out to be "Pearl Harbor" (2001), a large scale epic about that fateful day in December 1941 that was infused with a love triangle between a military pilot (Ben Affleck) presumed dead in the European theater, a Navy nurse (Kate Beckinsale) and the pilot's childhood friend (Josh Hartnett). With Bruckheimer once again producing, Bay clashed with Disney over the budget, which led him to walk away from the project four different times during pre-production. But the producer persuaded the director to see the project through, with the latter even forfeiting his usual fee of $6 million. While praised for its spectacular effects and the battle scenes, "Pearl Harbor" was savaged by critics, who blasted everything from the trite love story to the wooden performances from the stars. Still, the movie went on to become a box office success and even earned an Academy Award for Best Sound Effects Editing.
Rather than follow "Pearl Harbor" up with another strenuous, sweeping mega-action film - like the long awaited new "Superman" movie he flirted with but did not ultimately make - Bay instead opted for a more commercially safe road, reteaming with Bruckheimer, as well as stars Martin Lawrence and Will Smith, to direct the loud, explosive-packed and critically maligned sequel "Bad Boys II" (2003). Naturally, the movie grossed practically twice the box office of the original; more importantly, the action comedy maintained Bay's perfect streak of successful movies intact. But that changed - much to the delight of detractors - with his next outing, "The Island" (2005), a sci-fi action thriller that marked the first time the director made a movie without Jerry Bruckheimer. This time Bay chose a more story-driven, futuristic vehicle, focusing on two characters (Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson) who are confined to an indoor community because the rest of the world is deemed uninhabitable. Their only hope is winning the lottery for a one-way ticket to an idyllic place simply called The Island, the only place left on Earth capable of supporting life. But when they realize they are really clones created to provide replacement parts for their donors, the two escape to the outside world in order to find true salvation.
"The Island" received generally mixed reviews, but failed to become a hit at the box office, making it the first Bay flop. Adding insult to injury, the makers of an obscure 1976 film called "Parts: The Clonus Horror" - a sci-fi thriller about two clones escaping a closed-off community after finding out they are being bred for body parts - sued Dreamworks for copyright infringement and eventually settled for an undisclosed amount. With his detractors salivating over the possibility that the director was steering toward choppier waters, Bay returned to form with his next big-budget actioner, "Transformers" (2007), after buying the special effects company Digital Domain from James Cameron and Stan Winston. Teaming up with Steven Spielberg, who produced the picture, Bay turned in a fairly well-received action movie complete with stunning special effects and an effective storyline that featured an out-of-his-element human (Shia LaBeouf) becoming an ally of the heroic Autobots, who have come to Earth to battle the evil Decepticons. Initially, fans of the original cartoon series and subsequent toy line were upset with the radical transformation of their favorite characters, particularly leader Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen), although they later came around to Bay's more complicated versions. Aside from the positive reviews, "Transformers" marked a box office comeback for the director after his "Island" failure, earning over $700 million worldwide and having the highest-grossing non-sequel opening in movie history.
Bay returned to the well for the obvious sequel, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" (2009), a bigger, louder and poorly received continuation that featured far less focus on character development - a surprising element of the first film - and more emphasis on special effects. Of course, that mattered little in terms of its box office success; "Revenge of the Fallen" took in a whopping $200 million during the first five days of its release. Bay did run afoul with some critics - more so than usual - because of his use of racial stereotypes in the voicing of two new Autobots, Mudflap and Skids, with decidedly unflattering African-American characterizations. Bay brushed aside criticism in the name of having fun and trying to add more personality to the characters. Meanwhile, the director was set to helm a third installment of the franchise, "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" (2011), but the sequel was set to film without female lead Megan Fox, who had appeared as LeBeouf's love interest in the first two movies and had become an overnight star from her work on the films. When asked in September 2009 about her experiences with Bay, Fox compared him to Adolf Hitler, saying "He's a nightmare to work for on set, he's a tyrant." After the very public falling-out between director and leading lady, the studio failed to pick up Fox's option for the third film, citing her alleged weight loss as their reason. But speculation abounded that Bay had had her fired for her comments. The director went on an immediate search for her replacement just weeks before shooting was to commence.
After a change of pace crime comedy "Pain and Gain" (2013) starring Mark Wahlberg, Bay directed "Transformers: Age of Extinction" (2014) and a controversial film based on a disputed interpretation of events at the 2012 siege at a Libyan embassy, "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi" (2016), it was the lowest-grossing film of Bay's career to date, and was largely reviewed according to the individual writer's political leanings. A return to the Transformers franchise, "Transformers: The Last Knight" (2017), followed.
Director (Feature Film)
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Began directing music videos, re-launching Donny Osmond's career and also directing for Meatloaf, Tina Turner, etc.
First collaboration with Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, directed the music video for "Days of Thunder"
Made feature directorial debut with "Bad Boys"; produced by Simpson and Bruckheimer and co-starred Will Smith and Martin Lawrence
Again collaborated with Bruckheimer and Simpson for "The Rock"
Signed two-year multimillion dollar producing and directing deal with Disney
Directed the big-budget film "Armageddon"; co-produced with Jerry Bruckheimer
Formed Platinum Dunes, with Brad Fuller, and Andrew Form, a production company designed to produce lower-budgeted films
Directed the big-budget WWII-era set "Pearl Harbor"; again produced by Bruckheimer
First film released under Platinum Dunes was a 'reconceptualization' of the 1974 horror film "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre"
Re-teamed with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence for the sequel "Bad Boys II"; also marked fifth collaboration with Bruckheimer
Helmed first film without Bruckheimer producing, "The Island"; co-starred Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson
Bought the special effects company Digital Domain from former owners James Cameron and Stan Winston
Teamed with Steven Spielberg (the executive producer) to direct "Transformers," a live action film based on the franchise and toy line
Returned as director of "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen"; re-teamed with Spielberg as producer
Returned once again to direct "Transformers: Dark of the Moon"; re-teamed with Spielberg who was the executive producer
Produced the sequel "The Purge: Anarchy"
Directed yet another Transformers film, "Transformers: Age of Extinction"
Returned to produced the third "Purge" film, "The Purge: Election Year"
Directed "13 Hours"
Directed his fifth Transformers film, "Transformers: The Last Knight"
Produced the horror prequel "The First Purge"
Executive produced the series "Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan," starring John Krasinski in the title role
Executive produced series adaptation of "The Purge"