Labor Day weekend is upon us, or it will be starting Friday. This is a fun holiday that traditionally marks the end of summer. It’s a time for one last barbecue, one last getaway and, in most years, the start of college football. But this isn’t like most years.
Often, come Labor Day Weekend, I take stock of all the summer blockbusters we’ve seen. I love films with depth and story, but sometimes during the heat of summer you want a good artisan who knows how to master an explosion, shoot out, car chase and a little humor to gives you a couple hours of joy in air conditioning as you escape from the summer heat.
Last week I looked at one of my favorite directors in Christopher Nolan, but this week I turn my gaze to one of my favorite blockbuster directors, Michael Bay. We might not have gotten blockbusters in the theater this summer, but it doesn’t mean we have to go without them. Bay is a director who is intimately familiar with explosions, action sequences and a good slow motion shot. And while he’s given us five (yes, five) Transformers films, I’m choosing today to look at some of my favorite non-Transformers Bay films.
As always, agree, disagree, have a different take? Hit me up in the comments or on Twitter to get the debate started!
6. 13 Hours (2016)
About: Most people don’t think of Bay as making serious films, and 13 Hours was probably overlooked by many. But it tells the story of the attack on the United States Embassy in Libya that resulted in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens. It’s based on the non-fiction book from Mitchell Zuckoff and focuses on the private security contractors who tried to render aid and held off the attacks. It features a decent cast, including John Krasinski. This film was one of the reasons I know Krasinski would kill it on the small screen as Jack Ryan. The film also earned an Academy Award nomination, something you don’t typically see from Michael Bay. It’s action-packed and well crafted, definitely a film worth checking out for action lovers.
5. The Rock (1996)
About: After a coup led by a disgruntled soldier (Ed Harris), the fate of the world, or at least San Francisco, rests on a chemist (Nicolas Cage) and ex-con (Sean Connery) breaking into Alcatraz. This is a pretty stock concept for 1990s action films, and The Rock was one of the early films that helped establish Bay’s style and reputation. This is a pretty solid cast and the production features a pretty solid story. It’s not my favorite of Bay’s films, but it’s a pretty good time. I mean, come on, it’s Cage and Connery. What’s not to love?
4. Bad Boys II (2003)
About: This sequel to Bay’s first feature film in 1995 reunited Martin Lawrence and Will Smith as a couple of free-wheeling Miami cops. It upped the action and the humor, and actually introduced the Gabrielle Union character that led to a series spinoff for Spectrum Cable. This one has a couple of sequences that make me laugh my butt off every time, but are also pretty wrong. The closing action sequence really ups the ante and takes the adventures to Cuba. This is a pure action adventure where you just sit back, laugh and enjoy the ride.
3. Pearl Harbor (2001)
About: This is one of Bay’s biggest films in terms of scope, and one I don’t think gets enough appreciation. This is the story of a pair of friends (Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett), who get caught in a love triangle with Kate Beckinsale during the most infamous day in U.S. history. This is a fun movie, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Is it the most serious World War II movie? Probably not. But the action, especially the battle at Pearl Harbor, is pretty incredibly put together. It’s a little long, but it has a lot to cover. And I really like Affleck and Beckinsale in this movie.
2. Armageddon (1998)
About: This is probably Bay’s most famous film, a disaster movie with an epic cast. Bruce Willis, Affleck again, Liv Tyler and Billy Bob Thornton are the most prominent. This film was released during a time where two movies about killer asteroids were released close together. Sadly my friend and colleague Kenzie said Deep Impact is better. That’s both hurtful and not correct. Armageddon was the better film and the much more impressive film, complete with an original track from Aerosmith. How can you pick Elijah Wood over Affleck? Disgraceful. If you want the better of the two similar films from 1998, and just a banging action film in general, grab this one.
1. Bad Boys (1995)
About: I sort of referenced this one earlier, mentioning Bad Boys II on this list. But my love of Bay really began with this film. Smith and Lawrence are incredible, and Tea Leoni is pretty good in this one, too. Prior to Bad Boys, Bay had mostly done music videos, and also the iconic Got Milk? commercial about Aaron Burr. He put a lot of what he’d learned, especially about flashy style and good slow motion shots, into effect here. This had some great humor and some incredible action. It’s a kick to watch, which is why it inspired two sequels. This is Bay at his best.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast, a proud member of the Drive-In Podcast Network.