Despite his considerable success at the domestic and international box office, Bay's work is generally held in low esteem by film critics. While The Rock (1996) and Transformers (2007) received moderately positive reviews, his other films, including the four Transformers sequels, have been received negatively by critics.
Michael Bay was born in Los Angeles. He was raised by his adoptive parents Harriet, a bookstore owner/child psychiatrist, and Jim, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Bay 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 fifteen, 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.
Michael Bay began working at Propaganda Films, directing commercials and music videos, two weeks after finishing his post-graduate degree. His 90-second World War II-inspired Coca-Cola advertisement was picked up by Capitol Records. His first national commercial for the Red Cross, which won a Clio Award in 1992. He directed Goodby, Silverstein & Partners "Got Milk?" advertisement campaign for the California Milk Processors Board in 1993.
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. The film was shot in Miami in 1994 and starred Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. The action film proved to be a break-out role for Smith, who was segueing from television to films at that 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 at the box office 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), was an action movie set on Alcatraz Island, and in the San Francisco Bay area. It starred Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage and Ed Harris. It was also produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, the latter of whom died five months before the film's 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 collaborated with Jerry Bruckheimer again, 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 away from a collision course with Earth, starred Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler. It was nominated for 4 Oscars at the 71st Academy Awards including Best Sound, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Editing, and Best Original Song. The film earned 9.6 million dollars on its opening day and a total of 36.5 million through the first weekend. The production budget, $140 million, was one of the highest of the summer of 1998. Armageddon went on to gross over $553 million worldwide, becoming the highest-grossing film of that year.
In 2001, Bay directed Pearl Harbor. It starred Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale and Cuba Gooding, Jr. The film was released on Memorial Day weekend in 2001. Again, Bay produced the film with Jerry Bruckheimer. The film received four Academy Award nominations, including Best Sound, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Editing and Best Song. Again, Kevin O'Connell received another nomination for Best Sound, but he 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. Michael Bay also directed the music video for 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 which also marked Bay's fifth collaboration with Jerry Bruckheimer. The film 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. The Island cost $126 million to produce and earned $35 million domestically and $172 million worldwide. Bay stated that he was not comfortable with the domestic marketing campaign, as it confused the audience to the true subject of the film.
In 2007, he directed and teamed up with Steven Spielberg to produce Transformers, a live action film based on the Transformers franchise. The film was released in the U.S. and Canada on July 3, 2007, with 8 p.m. preview screenings on July 2. The previews earned $8.8 million, and in its first day of general release it grossed $27.8 million, a record for Tuesday box office attendance. It broke the record held by Spider-Man 2 for the biggest July 4 gross, making $29 million. On its opening weekend, Transformers grossed $70.5 million, amounting to a $155.4 million opening week, giving it the record for the biggest opening week for a non-sequel. As of November 2007, the film has made over $319 million domestically and 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 went on to gross 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 was one of the highest-grossing films of 2009. In 2010, it earned seven Golden Raspberry Award nominations and winning 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 number one 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 28, 2011. which went on to gross $1.123 billion globally. His next film was a comparatively small film he had been developing for years, called Pain & Gain. The true crime story, based on events described in a Miami New Times article written 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."
Bay produced DreamWorks' I Am Number Four, based on a series of novels by Pittacus Lore published by HarperCollins Children's Books. D. J. Caruso (Eagle Eye, Disturbia) directed. Bay will co-produce One Way Out, a reality series that pits ordinary people against each other as they try to keep their pasts hidden and builds toward a showdown where all those secrets will be revealed.
On February 13, 2012, Paramount Pictures announced that Bay would produce and direct a fourth Transformers movie. The film, titled Transformers: Age of Extinction, was released in June 2014. Starring Mark Wahlberg, the film went on to make $1.1 billion at the global box office In January 12, 2016 Paramount Pictures released 13 Hours, which Bay produced and directed the film, which is based on a true story and follows six members of a security team who fight to defend the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. While being the lowest-grossing film at the box office of Bay's career, it went on to massive DVD sales upon its digital release in May 2016, earning over $40 million in home video revenue.
Bay founded this production house with fellow producers Brad Fuller and Andrew Form in 2001. Platinum Dunes is named after one of Bay's first student films at Wesleyan University, which is where Brad Fuller graduated from college as well. The company's first film, a remake of the 1974 film The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, grossed $107 million worldwide. Platinum Dunes produced lucrative remakes of classic horror films and introduced new directors like Sam Bayer and Marcus Nispel to feature film audiences. Their horror film production A Nightmare on Elm Street, starring Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger, was released April 2010. The film made 32.9 million dollars in its opening weekend, covering nearly its entire 35 million dollar budget and went on to gross over 100 million dollars worldwide.
Paramount Pictures signed a first look deal with Platinum Dunes in 2009. As part of this new relationship, Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon brought the Platinum Dunes producers on to produce the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, rebooting the film series launched by New Line in 1990. Bay, Fuller and Form co-produced with Galen Walker, Scott Mednick and Marina Norman and worked on the sequel, which was released on June 3, 2016 and grossed $245 million globally. Platinum Dunes also produced the successful The Purge series and Ouija franchise.
Platinum Dunes is currently in the process of selling an unnamed TV series to a "major cable network" with Bay in talks to direct the pilot.
Bay and Wyndcrest Holdings, a Florida-based investment firm, acquired the digital effects company Digital Domain from James Cameron and Stan Winston in 1996, infusing the struggling business with a $50 million investment. Digital Domain considered an initial public offering in 2009 but ultimately withdrew the offer, because of the lack of interest. The company was sold to 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 Secret ads was for the 2009 "A Thousand Fantasies" holiday campaign.
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 of 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 English mastiff dogs in his films. Bay previously had another dog, Mason, whose final appearance in a film was as Miles' dog in Transformers. Mason died during production of that film in March 2007.
A March 2016 article in Rolling Stone reported that Bay owns 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.
Despite his box office success, Bay's work has been poorly received by 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."