Michael Bay on the set of Ambulance (2022)

(Photo by Andrew Cooper/©Universal Pictures)

In the 27 years and 14 feature films since Michael Bay burst onto the scene with 1995’s Bad Boys, we have only seen 14 people being treated in or near an ambulance. This is a bit surprising, since Bay’s films have become synonymous with explosions, chase scenes, and explosions that happen before, during, and after chase scenes. You’d think that with all the chaos and mayhem happening in these movies, we’d see more ambulances. In reality, it’s probably a good thing they don’t show up, because they’d probably be blown up too (along with their unfortunate passengers). Case in point: During the first trailer for Bay’s latest film, Ambulance, the audience is treated to two massive explosions that directly involve the emergency vehicle.

This all got us thinking about Bay’s overall filmography and how critics and audiences reacted to Pain & Gain, a movie with only three explosions, versus how they reacted to Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which features 380 explosions. Are more explosions better? Do audiences prefer less blow-uppy movies like The Rock and Bad Boys, or do they prefer Armageddon, which features a spaceship exploding as it chases a Texas-sized asteroid threatening to cause a deep impact on Earth?

We do know that Bay’s decades-spanning destruction spree has seen him become the target of movie critics, who have blasted his filmography to the tune of a 36.8% Tomatometer average. However, the pain of the Rotten scores must sting a bit less knowing that audiences have helped his movies earn $6.44 billion dollars at the worldwide box office and average a solid 65.8% Audience Score.

Michael Bay on the set of Transformers: The Last Knight

(Photo by Andrew Cooper/ ©Paramount Pictures)

One of the best parts of watching a Michael Bay film is knowing that there will be loads of practical effects and actual explosions. In a recent interview with Empire Magazine, Bay said that he has a “secret sauce” recipe for his explosions and compared their creation to making a Caesar salad. Except instead of Romaine lettuce, croutons, and parmesan, we assume his salad includes boatloads of explosives, real vehicles, and a special effects crew who are living the dream.

Bay’s love for beautiful explosions should be admired, and that’s why we spent 30+ hours staring at screens to get accurate numbers. After a while, we couldn’t help but notice all the scenes in Bay’s films of worried people watching wild events play out on screens in front of them; we could absolutely relate, but at no point did we want to close our eyes, fall asleep, or miss a single thing. In fact, the only other data articles we’ve done that can possibly compare, are the times we recorded every instance of Tom Cruise running in his movies, or when we attempted to figure out how much damage Dwayne Johnson has caused in his action films.

So without further ado, let’s all dig into Michael Bay’s explosive Caesar salad together.

Here’s How We Collected the Data

  1. We rewatched the 14 films that Michael Bay has directed since 1995’s Bad Boys, leading up to (but not including) this week’s Ambulance.
  2. Through a highly technical process of pausing, rewinding, freeze-framing, and squinting, we counted all of the explosions and recorded the timestamps of each moment. We felt it was important to include the timestamps to differentiate our data from other Michael Bay data pieces. We did the work, and we wanted to highlight when each explosion happens.
  3. To specify what exactly an explosion is, we utilized Britannica’s definition – “The sudden, loud, and violent release of energy that happens when something (such as a bomb) breaks apart in a way that sends parts flying outward.” If you’re wondering what we counted as explosions, here are links to moments in The Rock, Bad Boys, Armageddon, and Transformers for reference.
  4. We tried our absolute best to include every explosion, but there are moments in Armageddon, Transformers, and, well, every other Transformers movie that make counting raindrops in a hurricane seem easy in comparison. Regardless, we plugged along and had a blast logging each explosion.
  5. Moments such as when Paris is leveled by an asteroid in Armageddon were counted as one explosion. Sure, lots of things blow up, but it’s all part of one big explosion.
  6. During moments such as when Mark Wahlberg is running from explosions in Transformers: Age of Extinction, we counted the individual explosions. It’s one set piece, but there are many separate explosions.
  7. We did not count mere sparks. There are plenty of gunfights in the 14 films covered, hence more sparks than we could possibly count.

Michael Bay Films and the Number of Explosions in Them

Michael Bay on the set of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

(Photo by Jaimie Trueblood/©Paramount Pictures)

  • Total Number of Explosions: 1649
  • Average Number of Explosions Per Film: 117.7
  • Explosions Per Minute: 0.8 explosions per minute, or one explosion every 1.2 minutes (72 seconds)
  1. Pain & Gain – 3 Explosions
  2. The Rock – 8 Explosions
  3. The Island – 12 Explosions
  4. Bad Boys – 14 Explosions
  5. Bad Boys II – 29 Explosions
  6. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi – 33 Explosions
  7. 6 Underground – 42 Explosions
  8. Armageddon – 105 Explosions
  9. Pearl Harbor – 129 Explosions
  10. Transformers – 132 Explosions
  11. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen – 197 Explosions
  12. Transformers: The Last Knight – 226 Explosions
  13. Transformers: Age of Extinction – 339 Explosions
  14. Transformers: Dark of the Moon – 380 Explosions

Michael Bay Movies with Fewer than 25 Explosions Average a Higher Tomatometer Score

  • 0-25 Explosions: 49.75% Average Tomatometer Score
  • 26-50 Explosions: 36.6% Average Tomatometer Score
  • 51+ Explosions: 29.5% Average Tomatometer Score

This isn’t exactly a mind-blowing statistic, but it’s a fun one to break down. Michael Bay’s lone Fresh film, the 1996 action classic The Rock, only features eight explosions. That said, we might argue that the climatic Alcatraz explosion in that film might be the most iconic of them all.

By 1996, Bay had already established his explosive credentials when he and his special effects team blew up an airport hangar during the climactic gunfight in 1995’s Bad Boys; it’s a beautiful  scene that sees the action escalate until it eventually leads to a wide shot of the entire hangar exploding. But the aforementioned blast in The Rock, described in the script as a “monstrous infernal explosion,” is not only impressive in its own right, but we as the audience also genuinely care that Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) survives it. It’s an expertly crafted action set piece because the threat of the toxic gas has been eliminated, but Goodspeed can’t light his green flares (aka “please don’t blow us up” flares) soon enough to prevent the fireball. We will say that the airtime Cage gets post-explosion might be the most impressive “Cage in the air” moment we’ve seen, rivaled only by the time he flipped out of the convertible in Wild at Heart so he could dance with Laura Dern.

Other great moments in the 0-25 explosions group feature Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Mackie, and Dwayne Johnson walking away from an explosion in Pain & Gain, and Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson engaging in an explosive hoverbike chase in The Island. Want to know why the hoverbike chase looks so amazing? According to Bay’s DVD commentary, his stunt crew built a car called the “Bay-buster” that could slam into vehicles at high speed and be totally fine, and any time a real 3,000-pound metal plate slams into an SUV traveling at high speed, it’s gonna look wonderful on screen.

Bay’s Love for Explosions Has Grown Since the 1990s

  • 1990s: 42.3 explosions per movie (127 total)
  • 2000s: 99.8 explosions per movie (499 total)
  • 2010s: 170.5 explosions per movie (1023 total)

The old adage is that wisdom comes with age, and in Michael Bay’s case, he’s used that wisdom to figure out bigger and better ways to blow things up. Not only has he become an explosion Jedi over the years, but his budgets have increased, which has allowed his fireball allowance to grow exponentially. In the 1990s his films averaged a quaint $78 million budget; nowadays, that number has nearly doubled to an average of $141 million. In 2004 it was tough to think that he could ever match the central attack scene in Pearl Harbor, but in 2009, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen set a Guinness World Record when it featured the biggest explosion on film with actors present. In 2011, he followed up that record by producing the most explosions in any of his films when he showcased 380 different ways to create fireballs in Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

To be fair, it wasn’t until 2007 when he got his hands on the Transformers franchise, but 1998’s Armageddon and 2001’s Pearl Harbor both featured over 100 explosions, and they didn’t need alien robots with infinite rocket ammunition to achieve those numbers. Working through Bay’s filmography reveals his evolution as both a filmmaker and a pyrotechnician; Bad Boys provided a template that Bay has largely stuck to and gradually expanded over the years as his productions have only grown bigger and bigger.

Bay’s Best-Reviewed Transformers Movie Features the Fewest Explosions

  • Movies with a Tomatometer score of 50% or higher average 44 explosions per movie
  • Movies with a Tomatometer score below 50% average 147 explosions per movie

The Transformers movies directed by Michael Bay (which really only excludes the Travis Knight-directed 2018 prequel Bumblebee) boasts a total of 1,274 explosions, or 77.2% of Bay’s total explosion count, and averages 254.8 per film. The first and best-reviewed of those films, 2007’s Transformers, features 132 explosions, which would seem excessive compared to most other films, but actually makes it the least explosive of the franchise, if you can believe it. It’s a prime example of less is more, but it’s not without its fair share of kabooms: Check out the attack on the Qatar airfield, for example, or the moment when Josh Dushamel slides underneath an exploding Decepticon while shooting it with a grenade launcher.

Three other Bay movies have scores at or above 50% as well. The Rock, 13 Hours, and Pain & Gain have all done OK with critics, and they only feature a combined 44 explosions between them. There are more explosions in the first minute of Transformers: Dark of the Moon than there are in the 409 minutes that make up Bay’s R-rated non-science fiction trio.

Bay’s R-Rated Movies Feature Fewer Explosions

  • R-Rated Movies: 21 explosions on average, 45% Average Tomatometer Score
  • PG-13 Movies: 190 explosions on average, 30.75% Average Tomatometer Score

With the Transformers franchise and movies like Armageddon and Pearl Harbor floating around, it’s easy to forget that Bay kicked off his career with a couple of R-rated movies in Bad Boys and The Rock. They only feature 22 total explosions between them, but they make up for that with wild amounts of blood, sex, and other violence. It’s also worth noting that Bad Boys 2, also rated R, features an action set piece during which dead bodies are used to slow down vehicles in pursuit during a car chase. It’s insanity, and a YouTube clip of it is labeled “Dead Body Coffin Chase Scene,” just to paint the complete picture. And don’t get us started on the Reggie scene either — there aren’t any explosions, but the verbal bombs Martin Lawrence and Will Smith drop on the unsuspecting teenager hit harder than anything Starscream does in the Transformers movies.

Aside from the Alcatraz explosion in The Rock, we need to give props to the mansion explosion in Bad Boys 2. The New York Post reportedly claimed it was the most expensive explosion ever, as 50,000 gallons of gasoline and loads of explosives were used to blow up a $40 million mansion located in Miami, Florida. Bay said it was his biggest explosion yet, and on some level, you have to admire his dedication to practical effects, particularly at this scale. His R-rated films may only feature 7.8% of his total explosions, but they make a big impact.

More Explosions Means Bigger Box Office

Michael Bay on the set of Pearl Harbor (2001)

(Photo by ©Buena Vista Pictures courtesy Everett Collection)

  • Movies with 100+ explosions average $768 million at the worldwide box office
  • Movies with fewer than 100 explosions average $177 million at the worldwide box office

This may be wildly obvious, but for Michael Bay, more explosions equals more worldwide box office. Pain & Gain and 13 Hours are Bay’s lowest-grossing films and got made because of the clout he accumulated from Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, and the Transformers films, which pulled in a combined $5.37 billion worldwide.

With numbers like that, it’s obvious why Bay kept returning to the Transformers world. He wanted to stay relevant in the game, and understood that Pain & Gain and 13 Hours, which together only pulled in $150 million worldwide, are passion projects and not particularly bankable. Most importantly, he doesn’t want to have another situation like The Island, which has a relatively high Tomatometer score (for Bay) at 39%, but only 12 explosions and a lowly $163 million worldwide gross on a $126 million budget. Nowadays, it’s A-listers, explosions, and zero clones.

Maybe it’s time to give the man his due. Bay recently spoke out about how Spectre doesn’t deserve its explosive Guinness World Record distinction because the explosion comes nowhere near the insanity of the showcase Pearl Harbor attack sequence he crafted. According to Bay, “No one knows how hard that is. We had so much big stuff out there. Real boats, 20 real planes. We had 350 events going off. Three months of rigging on seven boats, stopping a freeway that’s three miles away.” Spectre may hold the record, but Bay is side-eyeing the heck out of it.

A Breakdown of Explosions According to When They Occur in Bay’s Films

A graph charting the number of explosions in Michael Bay movies against the 10-minute intervals during which they occur.

Here’s a breakdown of when the explosions happen in Michael Bay films, in case you ever need to take a bathroom break and you just don’t want to miss the excitement. It’s fun knowing that Bay goes big early to draw audiences in, then keeps them interested during the 40-50 minute and 90-100 minute marks before he goes big again for the blockbuster climaxes. It’s a sweet science.

Michael Bay loves blowing stuff up, and we enjoyed counting all of the explosions. What’s your favorite Michael Bay movie moment?

Ambulance opens in theaters on April 8, 2022.

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Transformers (2007)

(Photo by ©Paramount Pictures courtesy Everett Collection)

For a certain segment of the moviegoing population, Michael Bay’s 2007 blockbuster Transformers was their introduction to the world of the shapeshifting robots known as Autobots and Decepticons. For a certain older generation of fans, however, it was an exciting moment of childhood wish fulfillment, an opportunity to see their beloved robots in disguise on the big screen in “live action.” When the film finally released, it topped its opening weekend en route to earning over $700 million at the global box office, but it largely failed to impress the critics.

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Of course, Bay, who had already done The RockArmageddon, and a pair of Bad Boys movies up to that point, had built a reputation for larger-than-life action cinema, so in some sense, he was a great fit for the material. Plus, visual effects had come such a long way by 2007 that folks were eager to see how well the previously 2D-animated Optimus Prime and Megatron would translate to a live-action film with a $150 million budget.

And what was the end result? It kind of depends on who you ask. Transformers is just shy of Fresh at 58% on the Tomatometer, which means that, technically speaking, a small majority of the critics who saw the movie thought it was a good effort. Some of them thought the film was a breathtaking action spectacle populated by likable performances, even if the story felt a little thin. Others thought the big set pieces were choppy and incoherent, and the choice to focus primarily on the human characters more so than the robots was baffling.

Also depending on who you ask, those human characters either helped anchor the film with hilarious, relatable performances, or they ruined it by distracting from the main attraction and taking an obnoxious kitchen-sink approach to comic relief. Shia LaBeouf is either a jittery “crackhead dialed up to four” of a protagonist, or he’s a perfect audience surrogate, and yes, it’s nice that Megan Fox is more than just a damsel in distress, but her gearhead Mikaela Barnes is consistently shot as if she’s the eye candy in a hypersexualized music video.

In contrast to the Tomatomter, the Audience Score sits at a staggeringly healthy 85%, so what’s with the discrepancy? Much to the chagrin of some movie fans who love to roll their eyes at any mention of the director, there are certainly plenty of Michael Bay apologists out there. The man loves his explosions and spinning cameras, sure, but he also knows his way around complicated visual effects and compelling action set pieces. At the end of the day, Transformers remains his second-best-reviewed film behind The Rock, and both are tied for his highest Audience Score.

But there are absolutely fans from that older generation, the one that grew up watching the after-school cartoons in the 1980s, who bristled at the dramatically altered character designs (Optimus Prime has lips? Bumblebee is a Camaro?) and bizarre character choices (we need to talk about Jazz). What we’re trying to say here is that people have feelings about this movie, which makes it kind of perfect for us to talk about.

Joining regular co-hosts Jacqueline Coley and Mark Ellis this week are two guests who have appeared separately before but never together, and we’re so glad they could both join: Jay Washington and Winston A. Marshall of Blerds N the Hood. Jay, who grew up with the original series and even recently rewatched it, remembers going into Michael Bay’s film excited and coming out so angry he wanted to “fight people, just because” – he thinks Transformers’ Tomatometer should be lower. Winston, on the other hand, thinks 58% is about right; Mark is willing to go Fresh on it, and Jacqueline? Well, she’s the biggest fan of them all, and she thinks it might have something to do with the fact that she had no emotional attachment to the characters before she saw the film. She might not be far off on that point.

Check in every Thursday for a new episode of Rotten Tomatoes Is Wrong (A Podcast From Rotten Tomatoes). Each week, hosts Jacqueline and Mark and guests go deep and settle the score on some of the most beloved – and despised – movies and TV shows ever made, directly taking on the statement we hear from so many fans: “Rotten Tomatoes is wrong.”

Check out some more episodes of Rotten Tomatoes Is Wrong:

If you have a suggestion for a movie or show you think we should do an episode on, let us know in the comments, or email us at rtiswrong@rottentomatoes.com.

Meet the hosts

Jacqueline Coley is an editor at Rotten Tomatoes, with a focus on awards and indie coverage but with a passion for everything, from the MCU to musicals and period pieces. Coley is a regular moderator at conventions and other events, can be seen on Access Hollywood and other shows, and will not stand Constantine slander of any kind. Follow Jacqueline on Twitter: @THATjacqueline.

Mark Ellis is a comedian and contributing editor for Rotten Tomatoes. He currently hosts the Rotten Tomatoes series Versus, among others, and can be seen co-hosting the sports entertainment phenomenon Movie Trivia Schmoedown. His favorite Star Wars movie is Jedi (guess which one!), his favorite person is actually a dog (his beloved stepdaughter Mollie), and – thanks to this podcast – he’s about to watch Burlesque for the first time in his life. Follow Mark on Twitter: @markellislive.

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Plenty of new releases are making their way to theaters this weekend, but there’s only one wide release — because if you’re forced to choose between opening opposite one of Michael Bay‘s Transformers movies or simply moving to a different week, it’s usually best to pick the latter. In honor of Transformers: The Last Knight‘s arrival, we decided to take a look back at Bay’s directorial output, but with a twist: instead of arranging it by Tomatometer, we’ve lined up these releases in order of opening week box office. Get ready to push the awesome button, because it’s time for Total Recall!

Use the up and down arrows to rank the movies, or click here to see them ranked by opening weekend box office!