We polled over 50 experts in the field, from essential directors like Die Hard’s John McTiernan to the actual folks in the line of fire, such as Tarantino favorite Zoë Bell (the fearless stuntwoman behind Uma Thurman in the Kill Bill movies). The result: The 100 best action movies, a definitive look at the genre from the earliest silent classic short film of 1896's “Arrival of Train at La Ciotat” to Marvel's big-screen fighting force of 2012's The Avengers.
5. The Rock (1996)
Bay used to be known as a car-chase expert, very much in the Beverly Hills Cop mold. While The Rock is mostly set on Alcatraz, this earlier clip is emblematic: a destructive romp through the streets of San Francisco. If you think right-wing politics can't be conveyed in terms of pure stunt work, time to be schooled. A Humvee plows through a peace-sign-laden VW Beetle, totals a truck of bottled water and, finally, derails the ultimate symbol of socialist conveyance: the trolley car.
4. Pearl Harbor (2001)
This director should not be allowed near serious subjects. His love of technique and mastery of craft has the unwitting effect of making a traumatic event seem, well, totally cool. Then again, that tension is also what makes Bay so dangerous—and maybe even culturally significant. His attack on Pearl Harbor takes up a lengthy sequence; here's Bay's infamous "bomb-cam" perspective as the USS Arizona gets destroyed.
3. Bad Boys II (2003)
This movie, a steroidal improvement on the first one (which Bay also directed), has car chases as thrilling as those in The Rock. But Bay's detonation of a Cuban mansion supplies an even bigger jolt. (Yes, there's another Humvee.) Multiple camera angles compound the blast; Bay is something of a genius at this style of cutting. Also, crucial: plenty of reaction shots, like the guy at the end screaming, "Oh my God!"
2. Armageddon (1998)
Perhaps Bay's most notorious demolition, this wipeout of the entire city of Paris—sorry, France!—elicits whoops in jingoistic audiences. Undeniably, the destruction is breathtaking, a landmark Hollywood achievement if a decidedly crude dramatic device. Arriving in the pre-9/11 wave of disaster flicks, this scene pretty much rewrote the rules. Gotta love the gargoyle.
1. Transformers (2007)
In many ways the ultimate Michael Bay film, the first Transformers combines his military fetishism, sentimentality and love of big toys with the introduction of a bona-fide sex symbol (Megan Fox) in ways that many find totally toxic—others dumb-movie perfection. There are too many explosions to pick the absolute best, but this casual destruction of a city bus and a Los Angeles freeway system is tops in terms of total Bayhem.