As actors go, Christian Bale is something of a chameleon. Aside from a three-movie run in Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, Bale has never reprised a single role, with each one of his on-screen appearances being markedly different from the last. With new upcoming Oppenheimer movie, he is all set to surprise us more with his exceptional work.
After a standout performance in 1987’s Empire of the Sun, Bale has tackled just about every genre, including Shakespeare, historical dramas, and sci-fi epics. His mercurial talents haven’t gone unnoticed by the industry, with the actor having already amassed an Oscar, several BAFTA awards, and several accolades from the Screen Actors Guild. Below, we shine a light on five of his best performances.
In 2005, Bale and Christopher Nolan teamed up to take on the Caped Crusader. After some disastrous flops in the 1990s, the DC hero was considered a poisoned chalice. Nonetheless, Bale and his director managed to deliver something truly extraordinary with Batman Begins. A sequel would follow in 2008. While many critics focused on Heath Ledger’s take on the Joker, it was Bale’s understated performance as Bruce Wayne that really held this modern classic together.
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When Empire of the Sun was released, a 12-year-old Christian Bale had only appeared in one other film. This is a fairly unique take on the coming-of-age drama, with Bale’s Jim Graham forced to grow up fast after his family is imprisoned in a Japanese prisoner of war camp after World War II breaks out. With a young Bale carrying this film on his shoulders effortlessly, it’s no wonder he went on to become one of the finest actors of his generation.
This musical biopic based on the life of Bob Dylan was actually the first time that Bale would appear on screen alongside Heath Ledger. Rounding out the cast are acting heavyweights like Cate Blanchett, Ben Whishaw, and Richard Gere. Any other actor would have struggled to make an impression alongside such contemporaries, but not Bale. This unique take on a tried and tested genre was met with critical acclaim. Sadly, it would be Blanchett who received most of the accolades come award season.
Many actors go above and beyond to prepare for a role. In 2004’s The Machinist, Christian Bale shocked audiences with a jaw-dropping physical transformation to play Trevor Reznik, an emaciated factory worker who’s slowly losing his grip on reality. Bale dropped more than 60 pounds to play the role, with the actor barely recognisable in most of his scenes.
While Empire of the Sun might have introduced audiences to Christian Bale, it was American Psycho that catapulted him into the mainstream. Based on a novel by Bret Easton Ellis, this offbeat psychological thriller sees Bale playing the infamous Patrick Bateman. It’s a complicated character caught up in an even more complex story. A lesser actor would have struggled to balance Bateman’s quirks with the satirical edge of the screenplay, but Bale excels. Despite an impressive filmography packed with standout roles, this is without doubt a career best for Bale.