December 4, 2022

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The Sweet Science of Explosions in Michael Bay Movies

10 min read

(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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