Surely by now, we all know the name Christian Bale, and if you don’t, well, now is your chance. Bale is best known for playing Bruce Wayne/Batman in Christopher Nolan’s iterations of the popular caped crusader. But before taking up the mantle of Batman, Christian Bale established himself as an actor worthy of our attention and continues to remind us with every single role he takes — and yes, I do mean every. Single. One.
Though I love Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman, he’s proven time and time again his willingness, ability, and often astounding dedication to push himself and try new roles. Unfortunately, I couldn’t include every movie he’s done, or we’d be here all day. Below are some of my favorite roles he’s had over the years.
American Psycho (2000)
Bale has played several notable roles throughout his career (as this article will highlight). Next to The Dark Knight trilogy, he is probably next best known for Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, and I would be remiss if I didn’t include it.
Adapted from the Bret Easton Ellis novel of the same name, American Psycho follows a wealthy New York City investment banking executive. But behind his pristine and meticulously crafted outward persona, Patrick Bateman has just one little secret: he masquerades as a serial killer in his spare time. As the film progresses, Patrick’s bloodlust only grows, and he spirals further and further into his violent fantasies and tendencies.
The first time I saw this movie, I was absolutely floored by Bale’s performance, and I still am, especially after reading the book. He’s able to perfectly encapsulate Patrick Bateman’s personality, especially his innate and desperate need to make sure people know he’s better than them. His deep and slow spiral into insanity eventually leaves him and the audience wondering what just happened (a lot of people ask me about the ending. Guys, I don’t know). This is one of those movies where you will forget that you’re watching a real person play a fictional character. (Fun fact: He would talk like Patrick Bateman on set instead of using his real accent, so no one knew he wasn’t American until the wrap party.)
As a whole, the movie was well done. Mary Harron, director and co-writer with Guinevere Turner, did an excellent job bringing the story to life. She created a faithful adaptation of the novel that was unique in its own right and was also much easier to digest. American Psycho remains one of my favorites.
Empire of the Sun (1987)
Empire of the Sun follows Jim Graham (Bale), a young boy trying to survive Japanese occupation during World War II after being separated from his family. He’s eventually captured and becomes a POW, soon befriending a man named Basie (John Malkovich) who looks out for Jim as best as he can.
Though he acted before this film, Empire of the Sun was Bale’s first major role and earned him much deserved recognition. Bale makes it abundantly clear that he’s an actor not to be ignored. Even at a young age, Bale showed dedication to his craft that comes through in his acting. The way he portrays Jim’s fear and sadness will tug at your heart (along with an emotional reunion at the end of the movie). He brings childish innocence while simultaneously presenting a character who had to quickly learn to grow up and adapt to his surroundings in order to survive.
In Vice, Bale reunites with Adam McKay, the writer/director of The Big Short. In the film, Bale goes deep into chameleon mode and transforms into Former Vice President Dick Cheney. The film follows Cheney’s story as he goes from a quiet insider in D.C. and his rise to Vice President to George W. Bush and the quiet power he held. Though it’s been over a decade since Cheney and Bush were in office, the film is a timely and relevant one. (Another fun fact: Bale and Cheney share the same birthday.)
Bale is absolutely phenomenal in Vice. More than once, I nearly forgot who I was watching; he’s really that good. He gives his all to the performance, using his extensive research to portray Cheney and his mannerisms accurately, making him all the more believable. Along with his own personal physical dedication, the film’s makeup department was also instrumental in aiding Bale’s full transformation. The team of Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe, and Patricia Dehaney were also awarded the Oscar for Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling in 2019.
As a whole, Vice is a topical film and must-watch for everyone, even if you aren’t big into politics. It’s riddled with humor, excellently written and directed by McKay, informative, and perfectly cast. If you haven’t yet, watch it.
The Machinist (2004)
In The Machinist, Bale plays Trevor Reznik, an industrial worker who has extreme insomnia. He begins to question his own sanity, losing sight of what’s real until the film reaches its major reveal.
It’s well-known that Christian Bale is an actor who dedicates wholly to his roles and goes in prepared, and almost everyone knows that one of the ways he preps for roles is undergoing weight changes, no matter how crazy they may seem. On one end, he’s gained several pounds for films like Vice and American Hustle. But on the other end sits The Machinist, where he lived on an incredibly scant diet to lose 63 pounds for the role of Trevor Reznik. (Fun fact #3: he wanted to lose more, but the producer wouldn’t let him. He was also able to regain the weight he needed for Batman Begins, which released about eight months later.)
Aside from his incredible (and, quite frankly, scary) physical dedication, Bale also gives a haunting performance as Trevor. It’s near impossible not to feel secondhand exhaustion from Trevor as his insomnia gets progressively worse. Bale’s portrayal of Trevor’s paranoia and general mental state is enough to make you look over your shoulder every now and again. Trevor Reznik remains one of Bale’s finest performances to date (in my humble opinion).
Ford v Ferrari (2019)
In his most recent completed project, Bale takes on the role of British driver and mechanic Ken Miles, re-teaming with 3:10 to Yuma director James Mangold. Ford v Ferrari is based on a true story about the friendship between Miles and American car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), who team up to create a car for Ford that’s fast enough to challenge Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966.
Ford v Ferrari is the perfect movie for car enthusiasts and people who don’t really care about cars. While cars and their subsequent jargon are present (for very obvious reasons), the film connects viewers to its two main characters and their friendship, failures, and triumphs. The cars are just a bonus. Damon and Bale have such easy chemistry it makes you wonder why they haven’t been in more movies together. Bale embodies Ken Miles, slipping effortlessly into the role. His performance is dynamic, making it easy to root for him. He and Damon shine, keeping you engaged the entire time.
Ready for one more fun fact? Prior to this film, Bale was tapped to play Enzo Ferrari in an upcoming biopic directed and co-written by Michael Mann, who previously worked with Bale on Public Enemies. He dropped out due to concerns over being unable to hit the necessary weight (how ironic). Hugh Jackman replaced him.
The Prestige (2006)
Based on the novel of the same name by Christopher Priest, The Prestige follows two magicians, Alfred Borden (Bale) and Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman), tracking their careers from working together to trying to outdo each other every possible chance they had, sacrificing everything in the process. The story is told through the two reading each others’ journals, eventually leading to a fantastic twist.
The Prestige is the first movie I ever saw Christian Bale in, and I knew right away I’d be a longtime fan. Bale and Jackman have great on-screen chemistry, helping create the friends-to-rivals tension prevalent in the film’s main story. Bale’s individual performance shines as he showcases Alfred’s ambition and the subtleties of the character that make you wonder why he seems a little off (which is revealed by the end).
Out of the Furnace (2013)
Out of the Furnace is one of Bale’s roles that I personally think is one of his most underrated. After Rodney Baze (Casey Affleck) disappears, his older brother Russell (Bale) decides to go searching for him after local law enforcement doesn’t work fast enough.
One of the great aspects about Bale’s performance in this film is how quietly powerful it is. In general, Russell keeps his head down. He goes to work, goes home to take care of his father (until his death while Russell was in jail), and does his best to look out for his brother. He’s not the type to go looking for a fight, but he will (and does) to fiercely defend his family. Bale does an excellent job showing the different sides of Russell. He makes you feel for Russell’s more vulnerable side but will also keep you keenly aware of how serious he is about finding his brother. You’ll be on edge the entire time (in the best way), and the ending will give you chills.
Set at the end of the 1800s, Hostiles follows Army Captain Joseph R. Blocker (Bale), who’s been assigned to escort a Cheyenne chief, Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), back to his ancestral home. Along the way, Blocker and his group bring along the recently widowed Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike).
For Hostiles, Bale reunites with Out of the Furnace director Scott Cooper. This slow-burn Western is one I think also tends to be underrated, but it’s another powerful film. Bale does an excellent job undertaking the role of Captain Blocker. His character has a distinct arc, going from the angry man who couldn’t think of any worse punishment than escorting Chief Yellow Hawk to eventually becoming more open-minded and protective of the chief. His change of heart isn’t immediate or rushed, and it fits perfectly into the timeline of the film. Bale, Studi, and Pike all give strong performances that hit deep. The film overall is shot beautifully, and it’s well-written and directed. Hostiles is a film that will stick with you for a long time.
The Fighter (2010)
Last, but certainly not least, is the film that earned Bale his Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role. The Fighter is based on the true story of Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a boxer who’s trying to move out of the shadow of his brother Dicky Eklund (Bale) and make a name for himself.
In The Fighter, Bale takes on another real-life person, and, to no one’s surprise, he knocks it out. Once again, he undertakes a weight loss, but not nearly as drastic as that of The Machinist (though you wouldn’t think it at first). He also did extensive research that included spending time with the real Dicky Eklund. His hard work very clearly pays off as he portrays Eklund’s mindset and other characteristics. He and Wahlberg also have great chemistry as the brothers, and the film as a whole is well-done and a must-watch.
- American Hustle
- Rescue Dawn
- The Big Short
- The Secret Agent
- All the Little Animals
Currently, Bale has two confirmed upcoming projects. One is a currently untitled film with American Hustle director David O. Russell that is also set to star Michael B. Jordan and Margot Robbie. The other is the lead villain role in the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder, though which villain is still unconfirmed (so I guess he lived long enough to see himself become the villain). Visit Bale’s IMDb page for his full filmography. Trust me, there’s no shortage of good ones.