When determining the list of the greatest actors working in Hollywood, Christian Bale’s name should be toward the top. The 48-year-old burst onto the scene as a child actor in the late ’80s and has been working ever since. Bale is known for his intensity and ability to transform when it comes to his role. The best example of Bale’s dedication to acting is his weight transformation in 2004-2005. Bale lost 62 pounds for The Machinist, weighing in at 120 pounds. For his next role as Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, Bale gained over 100 pounds. When he overshot his goal, Bale lost 30 pounds to achieve his desired weight before filming.
Bale appears in his third movie since July 2022 with his starring role in the Netflix gothic thriller The Pale Blue Eye. Bale plays a detective summoned to West Point to solve the murder of a dead cadet. To celebrate the film’s release, here are five movies you should watch that best showcase why Bale is one of the most respected actors of his generation.
Before he became one of Hollywood’s most recognizable actors, Bale was an emerging child star. During his youth, two roles stood out in his filmography. One is Newsies, the 1992 musical about the newsboys’ strike of 1899. The other is what many consider Bale’s big break, Empire of the Sun, the 1987 coming-of-age film from Steven Spielberg about a young prisoner of war during World War II.
At age 12, Bale beat out 4,000 other actors to win the leading role of Jamie “Jim” Graham, a young upper-middle-class British boy living with his family in the Shanghai International Settlement. After the attack at Pearl Harbor, Japan invades the settlement, forcing the outsiders into prison camps. During the invasion, Jim is separated from his family. Forced to live on his own, Jim is captured along with Basie (John Malkovich), an American sailor who looks after the boy. As war wages on, Jim remains optimistic that one day, he may see his parents again. After Empire of the Sun, the sky was the limit for Bale.
Throughout the ’90s, Bale would appear in supporting roles like 1994’s Little Women. It wasn’t until the turn of the century that Bale received an opportunity to be a leading man in American Psycho. Based on Bret Easton Ellis’s 1991 novel of the same name, Bale stars as Patrick Bateman, a rich New York City investment banker obsessed with wealth, social status, and style.
Additionally, Bateman lives a double life as a serial killer. From his chiseled physique to his sociopathic persona, Bale completely transformed his body and mind to become Bateman. As a result of his performance, Bale achieved cultlike status, with many critics praising his ability to balance the horror and humor of Bateman.
Until 2005, Bale was a well-respected actor but had not achieved movie star status. That changed when Christopher Nolan cast Bale as Bruce Wayne for his Batman trilogy. For the role of Batman, Bale gained over 100 pounds of muscle and trained in martial arts. With his handsome smile and godlike physique, Bale could channel the playboy personality of Wayne and the dark, tormented persona of Batman.
Although Batman Begins starts his rise, The Dark Knight is the movie where Bale becomes an international superstar. After saving Gotham from Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson), Batman faces his toughest challenger yet, the Joker (Heath Ledger). The Joker wreaks havoc on the entire city, forcing Batman to question his morals and confront the fact that he cannot save everyone. Ledger’s performance is iconic and deserves all of the praise. However, Bale holds his own, and the dynamic between him and Ledger is one of the many reasons behind The Dark Knight’s success.
Throughout his career, Bale has received four Oscar nominations: two in Best Actor and two in Best Supporting Actor. Of the four nominations, Bale’s only win came in the supporting category for his role in 2010’s The Fighter. The film centers around Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a professional boxer from Lowell, Massachusetts, who attempts to win the welterweight championship. Bale plays Micky’s older half-brother and trainer, Dicky Eklund, a former boxer with a drug addiction to crack cocaine.
As Micky starts to find success, Dicky continues his downward spiral as his drug addiction worsens, culminating with a stint in prison. Eventually, Dicky straightens up and prepares his brother for the biggest fight of his life, a championship bout against Shea Neary. For the role of Dicky, Bale lost 30 pounds and recorded Eklund’s conversations to mimic his movements and distinct Boston accent. Bale’s intense preparation was rewarded with a well-deserved Oscar win.
As Bale transitions to the next stage in his acting career, he still brings the same intensity and professionalism to the screen, even if he’s not gaining or losing an abundance of weight. In 2019, Bale starred in Ford v Ferrari, a racing biopic by director James Mangold. Bale plays Ken Miles, an opinionated and fiery British race car driver. Along with Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), Miles is hired by Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) and Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) to design a car to battle the Ferrari racing team at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans in France.
It’s only been three years since the release of Ford v Ferrari, but it’s already considered by many to contain one of Bale’s most underrated performances. From his ill-tempered rants to his British sarcasm, Bale lights up the screen whenever the camera’s on him. Bale and Damon’s friendship in the film is so good that the racing doesn’t matter. All you want is to spend time with the duo and learn about cars.
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