Christian Bale is without a doubt one of the most prolific actors of our generation. He’s worked with the who’s who of directors and has won countless awards, including a Golden Globe and an Oscar. The English actor most recently starred alongside Matt Damon in James Mangold’s Oscar-nominated sports drama, Ford v Ferrari.
What some of you might not know is he actually got into Hollywood as a child, in Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun. Growing up a child actor can be a difficult adjustment for some, but Bale managed to hang around and improve his craft over the years. So without further ado, join us as we rank 10 unforgettable performances by the one and only, Christian Bale, ranked.
12. Empire of the Sun
Empire of the Sun was a film released in 1987 and was directed by Steven Spielberg. The film is a coming of age war film and was the first movie that Bale appeared in and he was extremely impressive. Bale played a young boy named Jamie Graham who goes from living with a wealthy British family to being a prisoner of war in Shanghai in World War II. He put on a great performance that set the stage for the rest of his career. Bale got cast at 12 years old and was picked out of more than 4,000 people that auditioned. If he wouldn’t have been cast in this film and put on a good performance, the movie business of the present day would be very different without Bale in the fray.
11. The Prestige
The Prestige is a film that was released in 2006 and was directed by Christopher Nolan. The film is a mystery drama that follows rival magicians in the 19th century who try to one-up each other on stage. Bale was so interested in the script that he actually contacted Nolan about it. Bale plays Alfred Borden, a working-class magician, and hits the role out of the park. Also, the twist at the end about another character being Bale’s character’s twin meant that Bale essentially played two characters in the show, often appearing beside himself and no one was the wiser until the reveal. Now that is some talented acting.
10. Out of the Furnace
Out of the Furnace is a film that was released in 2013 and was directed by Scott Cooper. The film is a suspense drama that centers around Russell Baze, played by Christian Bale, who, while searching for his missing brother, gets into a violent conflict with a local drug lord after being released from prison. This performance by Bale is a far cry from others like the Dark Knight, as Bale’s character is a simple man struggling in life and trying to do good for his family and not trying to save the world. This role is a testament to Bale’s acting chops because it is a character that isn’t all that glamorous or prestigious and really forced Bale to work hard and act his ass off to shine in the role, which he did.
9. Rescue Dawn
Rescue Dawn is a film that was released in 2006 and was directed by Werner Herzog. The film is a war drama centered around the true story of Dieter Dengler, a German-born US navy pilot whose plane was shot down over Laos and he was ultimately captured, tortured along with other US soldiers and eventually escapes. Bale plays Dengler fantastically in this movie for a number of reasons. Perhaps the biggest reason is just how harrowing his performance was. Throughout the film, Bale’s character is barely clinging to survival and almost runs out of hope, and you really get the feeling that Bale was doing his absolute best to channel the real Dieter Dengler in this movie.
8. The Big Short
Back in 2015, Christian Bale played hedge fund manager Michael Burry in the biographical drama, The Big Short. Adam McKay’s film featured a star-studded cast that also included the likes of Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, and Marisa Tomei. The film was both a critical and commercial success, pulling in roughly $133 million against a $50 million budget and taking home the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Bale’s performance was absolutely spot on, playing the role of the intelligent and introverted Burry to a tee, so much so that Bale received his third (at the time) Academy Award nomination. Although he didn’t win and the film might not be everyone’s cup of tea, his role in The Big Short is absolutely a must-watch.
7. 3:10 to Yuma
3:10 to Yuma is a film that was released in 2007 and was directed by James Mangold. The film is a modern remake of a classic Western that was released 50 years earlier and focuses on Dan Evans, who is a one-legged impoverished rancher that takes on a dangerous job of bringing a notorious outlaw to justice. This is one of the best modern Western films and really brought back the genre to relevancy, largely due to Bale’s strong performance. Despite not being the most flashy character in the film, Bale embraced the subtlety of his character and played the role of a suffering man to perfection.
6. American Hustle
American Hustle is a film that was released in 2013 and was directed by David O. Russell. The film is a crime comedy-drama set in the late ’70s/early ’80s that centers around two con artists who are forced by an FBI agent to set up an elaborate sting operation on numerous corrupt politicians. The cast of this film is as star-studded as any, but Bale manages to steal the show as con man Irving Rosenfeld. He showed his dedication to the craft by gaining a ton of weight for the film and put on perhaps one of the best performances of his career. In fact, you might even forget that it is Bale playing this character as he is so different than most characters he has previously played.
After working together on The Big Short in 2015, Christian Bale teamed up with director Adam McKay once again to portray Dick Cheney in the 2018 biographical drama, Vice. The somewhat controversial film tells the story of former U.S. Vice President and his rise to power during former President George W. Bush’s run in the oval office. Vice went on to receive numerous award nominations, with Bale winning the Golden Globe for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.
Bale is known for going all-in for his performances and Vice was no exception. To get into character, the Oscar-winning actor gained 40 lbs, shaved his head, and bleached his eyebrows. Bale looked and acted so much like the former Vice President that it almost felt like they were one and the same. This is without a doubt one of his most impressive performances to date.
4. The Dark Knight Trilogy
This is one of Bale’s most famous roles; he was spectacular as Batman in the Dark Knight Trilogy. The best movie of the trilogy, as judged by most, is The Dark Knight, but most would say that Bale’s best performance of the trilogy came with the first film, Batman Begins. With this film being the introduction of Bruce Wayne’s evolution from billionaire to Batman, it allowed Bale to play Bruce Wayne from a number of different angles, which showed his versatility and range as an actor. Christian Bale will without a doubt go down as one of the best actors of all time to play Batman.
3. The Machinist
The Machinist is a film that was released in 2004 and was directed, Brad Anderson. The film is a psychological thriller centered around Trevor Reznik, played by Bale. Reznik is a machinist who suffers from insomnia and is plagued by hallucinations and paranoia. This role is one of Bale’s most infamous because of the fact that Bale lost 60 pounds for this role and weighed around 120 pounds in the film. Thanks to this very frail physical looks and condition, as well as his manic and frightening behavior on screen, this is one of the most unforgettable performances of his career. This is a very hard film to watch, but even harder to forget thanks to Bale and his dedication to his craft.
2. The Fighter
The Fighter is a film that was released in 2010 and was directed by David O. Russell. The film is a sports drama that focused on the real-life struggles of two professional boxers, both in and out of the ring. Christian Bale plays Dicky Eklund, a man facing drug issues and dwelling on his past success as a boxer, he also holds on to a dwindling hope of returning to the ring. You would be hard-pressed to find an actor on Earth who could’ve played this role better than Bale; it is clear he spent a ton of time working with the real Dicky Eklund in order to put on such a riveting and convincing performance. This role also won Bale the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
1. American Psycho
Coming in at number one is American Psycho, which was released in 2000 and directed by Mary Harron. The film is a psychological thriller that focuses on Patrick Bateman, who is a wealthy investment banker and serial killer. The film is told by Bateman himself in the first person about his day-to-day activities and nightlife. This was the first film that proved Bale had the ability to be a leading man in Hollywood. Somehow, Bale was able to be both a complete maniac with little remorse or emotional attachment in the film, but somehow still have some weird and dark sense of sympathy that could be seen throughout. This is a performance that you have to see to truly appreciate; words on a screen simply won’t do it justice.