Will Smith and Martin Lawrence looking at something intently in distance

Every Bad Boys Movie, Ranked From Worst to Best

Warning: This ranking of all the Bad Boys films contains spoilers for, well, all the Bad Boys films.

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Before the 2020 release of Bad Boys for Life, the Bad Boys franchise was basically over after the movies stalled out, despite the success of Bad Boys II in 2003. However, the franchise is back in action with a fourth film landing soon.

Three films (plus a fourth one, eventually) give us just enough movies to make a ranking. So which film featuring Will Smith and Martin Lawerence talking fast, blowing stuff up, and killing people is at the top, and which puts the bad in Bad Boys? Check out our list below to find out. 

We should, however, get one thing out of the way before discussing the films. The first two Bad Boys movies are problematic. They feature overt homophobia, somewhat less overt racism, and a glorification of police officers breaking the law and abusing their power, which is immensely uncomfortable to watch today. They are woefully products of their time or, in the case of the second film, probably past its time. They’re also just big, dumb action flicks that you can enjoy as such if you want to. 

All Bad Boys Movies Ranked

Bad Boys II

Will Smith and Martin Lawrence on the cover of Bad Boys II

Bad Boys and Bad Boys II came out far enough apart from each other that they are perfect examples of Michael Bay’s shift in style from his early output to his later work. Depending on which era of Bay you prefer, you may rank one higher than the other.

Bad Boys II is Bay in his unchecked, bombastic, throw-everything-onto-the-screen era. Basically, he was given too much power and showed no responsibility. Thus, everything in the film is turned up to 11. This means that while the action is miles bigger and often better than the original, it suffers from Bay-bloat. It’s pure Bay cinema, and if you like his mid-career work this is some of his best before he began his downward spiral with the Transformers movies

Bad Boys

Will Smith and Martin Lawerence standing in front of a wall with serious expressions on their faces.

Bad Boys is early Bay at his finest, with relentlessly spinning cameras, quick dialogue, and so much slow motion that even Zack Snyder would be jealous. The action and violence may seem tepid compared to his later work, but the restraint actually makes the film work better as an actual movie instead of a bunch of people yelling things between shootouts.

Smith and Lawerence are pitch-perfect in the movie as an odd couple of cops. It’s their work together that makes the film function, not Bay’s direction. It’s also nice that Téa Leoni’s character is, relative to other women in Bay’s films, treated as a human being. She’s not simply a prop for the camera to slowly pan over, delivering one of the few characters in the entire franchise that you actually feel for. 

Bad Boys for Life

Will Smith and Martin Lawrence walking down a sidewalk

Bad Boys for Life is a minor miracle of a film, which makes up for the fact that the fourth film can’t be called Bad Boys 4 Life now. Up until this movie, both Mike Lowry (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawerence) weren’t actual characters. Instead, the films portrayed them more like caricatures. Watching these films back to back shows that clearly, but over the years, between the first two movies and this one, nostalgia has turned the characters into something more than they actually were. This film delivers that something more all while maintaining the kind of heightened ridiculousness of a Bay film.

Directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah perfectly capture Bay’s unique action style while also making the film their own thing, removing all those pesky issues like homophobia and racism. It may seem inappropriate to put the third film in a franchise, and the only one not directed by the original director, in the number one spot. But given the way the first two movies have aged and the fact that Bad Boys for Life actually makes you care about these ridiculous characters, it’s impossible to place it anywhere else. 


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Author
Matthew Razak
Matthew Razak is a News Writer and film aficionado at Escapist. He has been writing for Escapist for nearly five years and has nearly 20 years of experience reviewing and talking about movies, TV shows, and video games for both print and online outlets. He has a degree in Film from Vassar College and a degree in gaming from growing up in the '80s and '90s. He runs the website Flixist.com and has written for The Washington Post, Destructoid, MTV, and more. He will gladly talk your ear off about horror, Marvel, Stallone, James Bond movies, Doctor Who, Zelda, and Star Trek.