There’s little debate that Christian Bale is one of the finest actors working today. Ever since he got his big break in a World War II movie directed by Steven Spielberg at the age of 12, he’s starred in some of the greatest movies of the past couple of decades. Bale has always favored smaller arthouse movies over bigger blockbusters.
If he does a blockbuster, then he has a very good reason to do so, like it’s directed by Christopher Nolan or he gets to play an adult post-apocalyptic John Connor. He’s played a number of iconic roles over the years and made some unknown roles iconic. So, here are Christian Bale’s 10 greatest roles, ranked.
10 Alfred Borden
Between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale made The Prestige, a period thriller about a competing pair of magicians. Hugh Jackman plays the other magician, while David Bowie plays Nikola Tesla, which is certainly an inspired casting choice.
Bale plays the peasant magician opposite Jackman’s aristocrat, so he’s sort of the dark underdog of the story. Bale (and Jackman) play their roles with such intriguing duplicity that it forces you to watch the movie a few times just to pick up on everything they’re doing. It’s an all-around great movie, anchored by complex lead performances from this duo.
9 Melvin Purvis
While Public Enemies isn’t as great as Michael Mann’s previous crime thriller Heat, it is the same kind of thing. That movie was a cat-and-mouse chase between Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, while this one is a cat-and-mouse chase between Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, with Depp playing the infamous real-life criminal figure John Dillinger and Bale playing the FBI agent on his tail, Melvin Purvis.
This is Depp’s movie, and his ice-cool portrayal of Dillinger makes the whole film, but Bale provides strong support as the flip-side of the Dillinger coin. It’s admirable that he doesn’t steal the spotlight from Depp.
8 Michael Burry
The Big Short might not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but in its defense, it’s very, very hard to make a financial crisis look interesting on film. Adam McKay does his best with the humor and a cast of Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt, as well as cameos from the likes of Margot Robbie, and this is as entertaining as the 2008 mortgage crisis will ever be.
Bale plays his character Michael Burry as fiercely intelligent, yet introverted and solemn. It’s a quietly beautiful performance. It’s no wonder he was the only actor in the movie’s huge cast to get an Oscar nomination.
7 Irving Rosenfeld
When David O. Russell cast Christian Bale to star in his true-life movie The Fighter, the actor had to lose a ton of weight. When he cast Bale to star in his true-life movie American Hustle, the actor had to gain a ton of weight. Russell likes getting Christian Bale on and off various diets.
Bale plays Irving as a con artist whose scams have gotten significantly better since he paired up with Amy Adams, which ties into the comedic angle Russell takes with the movie. Bale received an Academy Award for Best Actor nomination for his performance in this movie.
Ridley Scott’s Biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings was criticized upon its release for its casting, which some said whitewashed history. White actors were cast to play people from the Middle East: Christian Bale played Moses, Joel Edgerton played Ramesses II, Aaron Paul played Joshua, Ben Kingsley played Nun etc.
But as long as Bale played Moses and we can’t change that fact, he did a wonderful job with the role. Controversially, he played him as a barbaric schizophrenic. Also, with Scott in the director’s chair and a $200 million budget in the bank, the movie itself gets bonus points for looking incredible.
5 Dick Cheney
Bale is up for an Academy Award for Best Actor at this weekend’s ceremony for his performance as “the Darth Vader of the Bush administration” in Adam McKay’s satirical biopic Vice, and there’s a good reason for that. He embodied the former Vice President of the United States in more than just the look.
While the makeup and prosthetics got the look just right, it would be meaningless without the performance to back it up – luckily, Bale nailed the voice, the facial expressions, the body language, the demeanor, everything. It’s like he actually became Dick Cheney – that’s movie magic for you.
4 Jack Rollins
I’m Not There is Todd Haynes’ ambitious biopic of Bob Dylan. Instead of telling Dylan’s life story in a straightforward way, Haynes told the stages of his career through six different characters, which included a woman and an African-American kid. Christian Bale actually plays two of these characters.
He also plays Pastor John, who is based on the “born again” period of Dylan’s life, but it’s his character Jack Rollins that he really goes to town with. Jack Rollins was written to represent the acoustic Dylan who wrote protest songs. It’s an important chapter of Dylan’s discography and Bale’s performance hits all the right notes, so to speak.
3 Dicky Ecklund
Christian Bale is no stranger to fluctuating his weight depending on the character he’s playing, so he found it a breeze when he had to emaciate himself to play the drug addict Dicky Ecklund alongside Mark Wahlberg’s Micky Ward in David O. Russell’s critically acclaimed boxing biopic The Fighter.
While Wahlberg was the movie’s star and he trained to get all the boxing scenes right, there’s no debate that Bale completely stole this movie. It was no surprise when Bale won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance because he did more than enough to earn it.
2 Patrick Bateman
Christian Bale’s career got a second wind when he was cast in the big-screen adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ controversially ultraviolent satirical novel American Psycho. Patrick Bateman is a cold, calculated, insane man who wants to create an idea of who he is as opposed to just being himself.
It was a tough role to play, but Bale made him a cinema icon. Bale’s balance of the cold-heartedness, insanity, and unnerving sense of humor is summarized perfectly in the “Hip to Be Square” scene. He analyzes the music of Huey Lewis and then carefully murders Jared Leto over a plastic sheet.
1 Bruce Wayne
Christian Bale played the lead role of Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy as not one, not two, but four characters. A mediocre actor would play the part as one character. A good actor would play it as two, distinguishing Bruce from his Batman persona.
But a great actor, like Bale, plays it as four: the young man out for vengeance, the bitter dude seeking his purpose in life, the angry Batman persona, and the shallow playboy facade Bruce puts on to avoid rousing suspicion. While he was outshined by Heath Ledger’s Joker in the second movie, this is fantastic work.