From the beginning of his career, Christian Bale has stood among the best actors of his generation. During his maturation, however, he has shown a willingness to commit to his roles that goes far beyond what most would dare to do.
Empire of the Sun (1987)
Bale’s first feature lead came in Steven Spielberg’s criminally underrated “Empire of the Sun,” a coming-of-age war film about a British orphan who is placed in a Japanese internment camp during WWII. His performance earned rave reviews, as well as a National Board of Review Award for Best Juvenile Performance, the first time the organization had given an award to a child actor.
Bale’s performance as strike leader Jack Kelly in “Newsies” is a noted cult favorite, even though the actor later admitted he didn’t really like musicals and had no idea the movie contained singing and dancing when he signed on for the role.
Velvet Goldmine (1998)
After stints in family entertainment with “Little Women” and “Pocahontas,” Bale took a risk with Todd Haynes’ “Velvet Goldmine” by playing a music journalist who is given the strength to come out after writing a story about a former glam rock star, played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers.
American Psycho (2000)
Arguably his second breakout role, Bale’s turn as sociopath Patrick Bateman showed a new, committed approach to the roles he chose: he had his teeth fixed and worked out constantly, all in order to achieve the look ascribed to the character in Bret Easton Ellis’ novel. It paid off, however, with some of the best reviews of Bale’s career.
Though he had previously appeared in “Shaft” with Samuel L. Jackson, Bale was mostly a passive character. “Equilibrium” marked his first true action film performance, proving he could kick ass with the best of them. Bonus note: Bale’s character, John Preston, holds the third-highest body count in movie history with 118 kills.
The Machinist (2004)
When people talk about “The Machinist,” the subject inevitably turns to Bale’s staggering weight loss to portray a man who hadn’t slept in a year after a personal tragedy. He lost 62 pounds (more than a third of his body weight) and earned highly positive reviews for both his performance and his commitment.
Batman Begins (2005)
Immediately after “The Machinist,” Bale packed on 100 pounds to take on the coveted role of Bruce Wayne/Batman in Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins.” The actor once again earned positive reviews and a Saturn Award. Bonus note: though the rumor took on a life of its own on the internet, Bale did NOT audition to play Robin in “Batman Forever.”
Rescue Dawn (2006)
Though now a box office draw, Bale kept a firm foot in the indie world by once again starving himself for Werner Herzog’s “Rescue Dawn,” the true story of a German-American fighter pilot who was shot down in Vietnam and placed in a POW camp. Impressed with his performance, Herzog later called Bale “one of the greatest talents of his generation.”
3:10 to Yuma (2007)
Bale took on his first Western with James Mangold’s “3:10 to Yuma” opposite Russell Crowe. A remake of the 1957 classic of the same name, the Welshman more than proves himself as a capable frontier man who, much like his Bruce Wayne, finds himself in the role of a flawed, imperfect, and admirable hero.
The Dark Knight (2008)
“Batman Begins” revived the Batman legacy, but “The Dark Knight” became a global phenomenon and established Bale as one of the biggest movie stars in the world.
Terminator Salvation (2009)
While the film itself was rather forgettable, “Terminator Salvation” became hugely entertaining after an audio tape of Bale berating a crew member for ruining a take leaked. While Bale apologized and several members of the industry came to his defense, the video went viral and gave the whole world a slew of new memes, as well as a new way to view the actor.
The Fighter (2010)
Bale earned his first Oscar nomination and win for playing former boxer and addict Dickie Eklund in “The Fighter.” Bale, once again, lost an extreme amount of his Batman weight in order to achieve the bone-skinny appearance of a drug addict.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Though not the high note that was “The Dark Knight,” Bale was able to do what almost no superhero actor is ever given the chance to do: go out on his own terms with a an actual character resolution.
Out of the Furnace (2013)
For his first post-Batman film, Bale teamed up with Scott Cooper for “Out of the Furnace.” One of the most divisive films of the year, “Out of the Furnace” finished with a middling Rotten Tomatoes score but wound up on several critics’ best-of-year lists.
American Hustle (2013)
Bale ate his way to a 43-pound weight gain for “American Hustle,” one of the most critically-lauded films of the year, and one of the actor’s most commercially successful outside the “Dark Knight” trilogy. Bale would also earn his first Best Actor Oscar nomination (his second overall).
The Big Short (2015)
Bale’s third Oscar nomination came courtesy of Adam McKay’s “The Big Short,” in which the actor plays one of the few men who saw the financial disaster of 2008 coming down the road and figured out a way to make money from it. We thought we had run out of ways to be surprised by Bale, but his performance of a socially anxious man who is much more comfortable dealing with numbers instead of people took many by surprise.
Bale’s second film with Scott Cooper (in a role written specifically for him) sees him return to the Western genre as an Army captain who is tasked with escorting a dying Cheyenne war chief back to his land in order to die.
Bale is reteaming with Adam McKay for the Dick Cheney biopic “Backseat,” which will once again gift us with Bale’s fat version in order to remind us all what true commitment to an art looks like.