Michael Benjamin Bay (born February 17, 1965) is an American film director and producer. He is best known for making big-budget, high-concept action films characterized by fast cutting, stylistic cinematography and visuals, and extensive use of special effects, including frequent depictions of explosions. The films he has produced and directed, which include Armageddon (1998), Pearl Harbor (2001) and the Transformers film series (2007–present), have grossed over US$7.8 billion worldwide, making him one of the most commercially successful directors in history.
Michael Benjamin Bay
February 17, 1965
|Alma mater||Wesleyan University|
Art Center College of Design
|Relatives||Susan Bay (cousin)|
He is co-founder of commercial production house The Institute, a.k.a. The Institute for the Development of Enhanced Perceptual Awareness. He co-owns Platinum Dunes, a production house which has remade horror films, including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), The Amityville Horror (2005), The Hitcher (2007), Friday the 13th (2009) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010).
Despite his commercial success at the box office, Bay's work is generally held in low esteem by film critics. While The Rock (1996), Transformers (2007), 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016), and Ambulance (2022) received moderately positive reviews, most of his other films, particularly the four Transformers sequels, have been received negatively by critics.
Early life and education
Bay was born in Los Angeles. He was raised by his adoptive parents Harriet, a bookstore owner and child psychiatrist, and Jim, a Certified Public Accountant. He was raised Jewish. His grandfather was from Russia. His cousin, Susan Bay, is the widow of Star Trek actor Leonard Nimoy (whom he eventually cast as the voice actor for Sentinel Prime in Transformers: Dark of the Moon). He attended the exclusive Crossroads School in Santa Monica, California.
Bay often traces his interest in action films back to an incident during his childhood. As a boy, he attached some firecrackers to a toy train and filmed the ensuing fiery disaster with his mother's 8 millimeter camera. The fire department was called and he was grounded.
Bay got his start in the film industry interning with George Lucas when he was 15, filing the storyboards for Raiders of the Lost Ark, which he thought was going to be terrible. His opinion changed after seeing it in the theater and he was so impressed by the experience that he decided to become a film director. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 1986, majoring in both English and film. He was a member of the Psi Upsilon fraternity and a favorite student of film historian Jeanine Basinger. For his graduate work, he attended Art Center College of Design in Pasadena where he also studied film.
1992–2005: Breakthrough and stardom
Bay began working at Propaganda Films, directing commercials and music videos, two weeks after finishing his postgraduate degree. His 90-second World War II–inspired Coca-Cola advertisement was picked up by Capitol Records. His first national commercial was for the Red Cross, which won a Clio Award in 1992. He directed Goodby, Silverstein & Partners' "Aaron Burr" commercial as part of the "Got Milk?" ad campaign for the California Milk Processors Board in 1993, which also won a Grand Prix Clio Award for Commercial of the Year.
Bay's success in music videos gained the attention of producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, who selected him to direct his first feature-length film, Bad Boys. It was shot in Miami in 1994 and starred Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. The action film was a breakout role for Smith, who was making a transition from television at the time. Shooting in Miami was a good experience for Bay, who would later own a home in the city and spend a great deal of time there. The film was completed for $19 million and grossed a remarkable $141 million in the summer of 1995. Bay's success led to a strong partnership and friendship with Jerry Bruckheimer.
His follow-up film, The Rock (1996), an action movie set on Alcatraz Island and in the San Francisco Bay area, starred Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage and Ed Harris. It was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, the latter of whom died five months before its release. The film is dedicated to him. Connery and Cage won 'Best On-Screen Duo' at the MTV Movie Awards in 1997, and the film was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Achievement in Sound category for the work of Greg P. Russell, Kevin O'Connell and Keith A. Wester. After the success of The Rock, Bay established his production company Bay Films, with a two-picture deal with Disney.
In 1998, Bay again collaborated with Jerry Bruckheimer, this time as a co-producer, as well as directing the action-adventure film Armageddon. The film, about a group of tough oil drillers who are sent by NASA to deflect an asteroid from a collision course with Earth, starred Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler. It was nominated for four Oscars at the 71st Academy Awards, including Best Sound, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Editing and Best Original Song. It earned $9.6 million on its opening day and $36.5 million through the first weekend. Its budget of $140 million was one of the highest of the summer of 1998. It went on to gross over $553 million worldwide, the highest-grossing film of that year.
In 2001, Bay directed Pearl Harbor, starring Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale and Cuba Gooding, Jr. It was released on Memorial Day weekend in 2001, again produced by Bay with Jerry Bruckheimer. It received four Academy Award nominations, including Best Sound, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Editing and Best Song. Kevin O'Connell received another nomination for Best Sound, but did not win. Pearl Harbor won in the category for Sound Editing, making it Bay's first (and, to date, only) film to win an Oscar. Bay also directed the music video for the nominated track "There You'll Be" by vocal artist Faith Hill.
Bay reteamed with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence for Bad Boys II, a sequel that was Bay's fifth collaboration with Jerry Bruckheimer. It grossed $138 million domestically, enough to cover the production budget, and $273 million worldwide, almost twice as much as the first movie. In 2005, Bay directed The Island, a science fiction film starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson. It was the first film Bay made without Jerry Bruckheimer as a producer. It cost $126 million to produce and earned $36 million domestically and $127 million overseas, for a total of $163 million. Bay said that he was not comfortable with the domestic marketing campaign, as it confused the audience about the film's true subject.
In 2007, he teamed up with executive producer Steven Spielberg to direct Transformers, a live action film based on the Transformers franchise. Released in July 2007, by November of that year it had made over $709 million worldwide.
Bay returned as director and executive producer for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which was released on June 24, 2009 and grossed over $832 million worldwide. Although it received mostly negative reviews by critics, including aggressively critical reviews by American film critics such as Roger Ebert, Michael Phillips and David Denby (who referred to Bay as "stunningly, almost viciously, untalented"), the film was well received by its intended audience and one of the highest-grossing of 2009. In 2010, it earned seven Golden Raspberry Award nominations, and won three: Worst Picture, Worst Director and Worst Screenplay. It was also one of the best-selling DVD and Blu-ray Discs of 2009, second only to Twilight in DVD format, and the #1 of all time in Blu-ray format until it was surpassed by Blu-ray sales of James Cameron's Avatar in April 2010.
Bay directed Transformers: Dark of the Moon, released on June 29, 2011, which grossed $1.123 billion globally. His next film was a comparatively small one he had been developing for years, called Pain & Gain. The true crime story, based on events described in a Miami New Times article by Pete Collins, concerns a group of bumbling bodybuilders working together to commit a robbery. It starred Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub and Ed Harris.
A fourth Bay-directed Transformers movie, Transformers: Age of Extinction, was released in June 2014. Starring Mark Wahlberg, it earned $1.1 billion at the global box office. On January 12, 2016, Paramount Pictures released 13 Hours, which Bay produced and directed, based on the 2012 Benghazi attack. While the lowest-grossing film of Bay's career at the box office, it went on to massive DVD sales on its digital release in May 2016, earning over $40 million in home video revenue.
Bay's fifth Transformers film as director, Transformers: The Last Knight, was released on June 21, 2017. It grossed $68.5 million in its five-day North American opening weekend, the franchise's lowest opening, and $605 million worldwide. In a 2016 Rolling Stone interview, Bay said it would be his final Transformers film as director.
In 2018, it was announced that Bay would direct the Netflix action thriller film 6 Underground, starring Ryan Reynolds, Mélanie Laurent, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Adria Arjona, Corey Hawkins, Ben Hardy and Dave Franco. It was released on December 13, 2019. In August 2019, Bay signed to direct the action film Black Five for Sony Pictures. However, the film, which was set to begin production in 2020, was put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Bay subsequently moved on to direct Ambulance.
Bay produced the pandemic-themed thriller Songbird starting Demi Moore, Craig Robinson, Paul Walter Hauser and Peter Stormare. He is set to direct the dystopian thriller Little America, which was scheduled to film in California sometime in 2020.
In 2021, it was reported that Bay requested financial compensation from film studio Paramount Pictures for indirectly limiting his income as a result of Paramount cutting the theatrical-only run of A Quiet Place Part II from 90 to 45 days due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bay, and other producers as well as actors for the film, as is typically the case, receive payment in part based on box-office performance, and a reduction in the theatrical run's exclusivity affected the pay they received.
Bay's next film was 2022's Ambulance, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Eiza González. It follows two bank robbers who hijack an ambulance and take two hostages. Shot during the COVID-19 pandemic in Los Angeles, it was released in the US on April 8, 2022 by Universal Pictures.
Production and effects companies
Bay and Wyndcrest Holdings, a Florida-based investment firm, acquired the digital effects company Digital Domain from James Cameron and Stan Winston in 2006, infusing the struggling business with a $50 million investment. Digital Domain considered an initial public offering in 2009 but withdrew the offer due to lack of interest. It was sold to the production group Beijing Galloping Horse in 2012.
After leaving Propaganda Films, Bay and producer Scott Gardenhour, also formerly at Propaganda, formed The Institute for the Development of Enhanced Perceptual Awareness (now known as The Institute), to produce commercials and other projects. Through The Institute, Bay has directed and produced spots for Victoria's Secret, Lexus, Budweiser, Reebok, Mercedes-Benz, and Nike. One of his Victoria's Secret ads was for the 2009 "A Thousand Fantasies" holiday campaign.
451 Media Group
Bay co-founded 451 Media Group with Doug Nunes (who serves as CEO), and with John and Anthony Gentile, who previously marketed brands such as Micronauts, Visionaries, Sky Dancers and the Power Glove. In 2015, the company announced an interactive publishing division to offer "augmented reality" content from printed graphic novels with digital video. The graphic novels employ Touchcode technology from T+ink (previously used in the Power Glove), in which ink used in the printing process unlocks access to exclusive content that is housed on the Machinima Network, which is transferred to users' touch-screen-enabled mobile devices when the printed books are touched to those devices. The company's premiere slate of graphic novels was unveiled at the October 2015 New York Comic Con. The creators involved included Scott Rosenberg, Skip Woods, George Pelecanos, Mark Mallouk, Clay McLeod Chapman and Peter and Paul Williams.
In June 2016, Bay joined The Rogue Initiative, a production studio and technology company, as a strategic advisor and stakeholder. The studio merges Hollywood production with interactive talent to generate story-driven content for games, mobile, virtual reality, mixed reality, television and feature film. As part of the partnership, Bay will develop and direct a multiplatform action-adventure game and cinematic VR experiences, based on an original IP conceived by him.
Bay lives in Miami with his three English mastiffs, named for characters in his films. As a boy, he donated his Bar Mitzvah money to an animal shelter and often includes his dogs in his films. Bonecrusher appeared as Mikaela's dog "Bones" in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Mason, his first English mastiff, was named for John Patrick Mason, played by Sean Connery in The Rock. Mason appeared as Marcus's dog in Bad Boys II and as Miles' dog in Transformers; he died during production of the latter film in March 2007.
In a 2016 Rolling Stone interview, Bay said that his net worth was around $500 million. He owned a $50 million Gulfstream G550 jet, as well as a Bentley, a Range Rover, an Escalade, a Ferrari, a Lamborghini, and two Camaros from the Transformers franchise.
|1995||Bad Boys||Sony Pictures Releasing|
|1996||The Rock||Buena Vista Pictures|
|2003||Bad Boys II||Sony Pictures Releasing|
|2005||The Island||DreamWorks Pictures|
|2009||Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen|
|2011||Transformers: Dark of the Moon||Paramount Pictures|
|2013||Pain & Gain|
|2014||Transformers: Age of Extinction|
|2016||13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi|
|2017||Transformers: The Last Knight|
His movies look like a more compacted, cartoonish messy version of films by British commercial directors like Adrian Lyne and Ridley and Tony Scott. He packs each frame with baroque detail and floods the screen with light and smog; he prefers extreme wide angles or punishingly tight telephoto close-ups, which make each shot dense enough to burst.
Despite his box office success, Bay's work has been poorly received by film critics, and his name is often used pejoratively in art-house circles. Bay has responded to his critics, saying: "I make movies for teenage boys. Oh, dear, what a crime." Besides accusing him of making films that pander to a young demographic, critics and audiences have been critical of elements of Bay's filmmaking style such as the overuse of Dutch angles, extreme patriotism, overly broad and sophomoric humor, excessive product placement, oversaturated orange and teal color grading, reusing footage from his previous films, and his preference of action and spectacle over story and characters. Another point of contention with Bay's films is his portrayal and use of offensive racial stereotypes as comedic relief; a notable alleged example being the characters Skids and Mudflap in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
Bay has also been accused of heavily objectifying women in his films, with critics describing Bay's manner of filming actresses as "lascivious" and "pornographic". He has faced criticism for routinely making sexist remarks and showing female characters in a stereotypical light. He came under scrutiny for firing Megan Fox in retaliation after she made comments about him mistreating her on the set of the Transformers films and compared him to Hitler and Napoleon. Bay published an open letter written by three anonymous members of the crew of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen that referred to Fox as, among other things, "Ms. Sourpants", "porn star", "unfriendly bitch", and "dumb-as-a-rock".
In 2009, it was reported that Fox, at the age of 15, was made to wash Bay's car while auditioning for Transformers. In 2020, Fox revisited the incident and denied that she was underaged (for Transformers) or "made to 'wash' or work on someone's cars in a way that was extraneous from the materials in the actual script." Fox was 15 when she first appeared as a bikini-clad extra in the Bay film Bad Boys II.
Six of Bay's films have been nominated for the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Picture and Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Director (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Transformers: Age of Extinction and Transformers: The Last Knight), with Revenge of the Fallen and Age of Extinction winning the award for "Worst Director". Revenge of the Fallen also became the first film by Bay and also the highest-grossing film to be awarded "Worst Picture".
Conversely, some critics and actors have praised Bay's films and style. Film historian Jeanine Basinger has described him as "the most cinematic and fluid and unafraid director", while Scott Foundas of Variety has lauded his "grand, epic vision" and positively compared him to William Wyler. Actress Scarlett Johansson wrote that Bay is "a truly ambitious storyteller who celebrates characters actors and leading men and women alike."
|2003||Bad Boys II||23%|
|2009||Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen||20%|
|2011||Transformers: Dark of the Moon||35%|
|2013||Pain & Gain||50%|
|2014||Transformers: Age of Extinction||18%|
|2016||13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi||51%|
|2017||Transformers: The Last Knight||16%|
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