Christian Bale has gone through it all during his time as an actor and he’s clearly one of the greatest currently on this planet. An acting chameleon, no weight, loss or gain, stands in his way from playing any role. Whether playing an anorexic industrialist worker or a bloated Vice President, Bale always brings his best to the table and this begs the question as to what the best Christian Bale movies actually are.
With a new Bale performance incoming from the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Thor: Love and Thunder, we decided to take an in-depth look at his acting career so far. Here is a ranked list of the best Christian Bale movies. It’s important to note that I am taking both his performance and the overall quality of the film into consideration, it’s not just the best movies he’s been featured in.
Kicking off this list is one of Christian Bale’s first ever appearances in a feature film. At just the age of 13, Bale already had a lead role in a Steven Spielberg epic. Despite being one of Spielberg’s lesser-known films, Empire of the Sun is still a very inspiring film while relying on the performance of a child actor which can oftentimes be a huge risk. Thankfully Spielberg’s choice paid off as Bale nails one of his first roles and captures what life was like for a young boy when Japan invaded and occupied China during World War II.
No doubt an underrated Christian Bale gem, Hostiles is an outstanding film carried on the shoulders of Bale’s exceptional performance. In 1892, army captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) must escort the Cheyenne chief and his family through rugged lands in order to return to their tribal lands in Montana. Despite having some slower moments, this is a beautifully shot western that is reminiscent of Dances With Wolves and is subtly one of Bale’s best performances of his career.
Another western film makes the list yet it plays out very differently from the previous one. 3:10 to Yuma follows rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale) as he must hold captured outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) and bring him to the train to Yuma for the reward of 200 dollars. The task sounds simple, but the transport is much more hazardous than anticipated for Bale’s character as he must face ambushes from Indians, attacks from Wade’s gang, and Wade’s own conniving attitude along the journey. The film is more action-packed than your typical western and by combining it with a great performance from Christian Bale, it’s hard to get much better than that.
A sometimes brutal film, Rescue Dawn doesn’t shy away from showing the struggles of survival. Christian Bale plays a U.S. fighter pilot named Dieter Dengler, who gets shot down over the country of Laos during the Vietnam War and must fight for survival. For a rating of PG-13, this is a tough watch. The film takes a deep and depressing look into the life of a prisoner in a POW camp. The film is tough, brutal, gritty, and features another overlooked yet powerful Bale performance.
One of Christian Bale’s more recent films, Vice is an entertaining biopic. The film follows Vice President Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) as he quietly held great power and reshaped not only the country at the time but also the world we live in today. The film does have its flaws, but Bale as Cheney is an unsurprising powerhouse. Just like for similar roles Bale had done in the past, he had to manage his weight drastically and packed on the pounds. Bale ultimately weighed around 230 pounds for the role. The film also features other great performances from Amy Adams, Steve Carell, and Sam Rockwell. Not only is this another solid Christian Bale movie, but it is also a good addition to writer and director Adam McKay’s catalog.
This is where Christian Bale’s dedication to perfecting the look for a role goes a little too far. The Mechanist follows industrial worker and insomniac Trevor Reznik (Christian Bale) as he begins to break down and lose his mind. While the film can be depressing at times, it plays out like a mystery thriller and does have some tricks up its sleeve. This role is infamous for Bale because of the extreme weight loss he endured. Bale dropped down to 110 pounds and in order to achieve that weight, for four straight months he stuck to a diet of black coffee, an apple and a tin of tuna per day. The dedication definitely paid off as this is one of his most unforgettable films.
Similar to other Studio Ghibli films, Howl’s Moving Castle is extremely original and entertaining while also having a lot of heart at its core. But of course, Christian Bale plays a big role in this film otherwise it obviously wouldn’t be on the list. The film follows Sophie (Emily Mortimer) who gets cursed by a witch and transformed into an old lady and has to rely on a young, flawed wizard named Howl (Christian Bale) in order to be freed. Bale is able to elevate this film with his top-notch voice-over for the timid and reserved wizard Howl. Throughout the film, Howl goes through many ups and downs and Bale is able to capture his feelings perfectly. As far as the film goes, it’s one of the best from Studio Ghibli and is an absolute joyous ride full of love and adventure that can’t be overlooked.
An all-around solid film, American Hustle is entertaining throughout thanks to the fantastic cast who bring this film to life. The film follows con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) who is forced to work and corporate with wild F.B.I. Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) in order to help hustle corrupt politicians and members of the New Jersey Mafia. There are many great performances in this movie from Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jeremy Renner, but Christian Bale’s performance is definitely a standout amongst the talented others. Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, American Hustle is a top-tier crime movie that can’t be ignored as one of Christian Bale’s best.
A racing film like no other, Ford v Ferrari is filled with full throttle fun. The film tells the story of car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) who attempt to beat Ferrari at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race all while constantly having to battle corporate interference to achieve their ultimate goal. Despite its long runtime, the film hardly drags because of its fast-paced editing and intriguing storytelling. Additionally, this is a very entertaining Bale performance as he plays the stubborn, hardworking, and intuitive Ken Miles to perfection.
With the first film in the Dark Knight Trilogy, writer and director Christopher Nolan sets the stage for future Batman films by finally providing the world with a great Batman and Bruce Wayne performance combination captured by Christian Bale. Batman Begins follows the beginnings of Bruce Wayne as he traverses the dark Gotham City atmosphere and must battle with his past demons to defeat both old and new enemies all while figuring out his new persona as Batman. This film has everything you need from an origin story, and Nolan elevates it with his elite vision as a filmmaker. Despite that, the main focus of this list is Christian Bale who without a doubt brings comic book fans joy as Batman but also still gives a genuine performance as the billionaire Bruce Wayne.
An underrated gem from writer and director Christopher Nolan, The Prestige is nothing short of excellent storytelling. The film takes place in London during the 1890s and follows two magicians who increasingly try to outwit the other in an attempt to create the ultimate illusion. Christian Bale of course shines, as he plays one of the lead magicians in the film. On top of that, the rest of the cast is stacked with names like Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine, Rebecca Hall, Andy Serkis, and even David Bowie. There’re many layers of secrets and tricks hidden in this film and the ending is sure to leave you stunned.
I guess you could call this a ‘hot take’, but The Dark Knight Rises can’t be ignored as one of Bale’s best and is still an epic finale to one of the greatest trilogies of all time. Bale yet again stars as Batman and has to protect the city of Gotham from a new and extremely powerful (literally) threat known as Bane (Tom Hardy). Unsurprisingly, Bale does another excellent job at portraying both Batman and Bruce Wayne as he roams the streets of Gotham one last time.
It was a tough choice picking the 3 and 4 slots on this list, but in the end, the performance he gives in the next movie (somehow) outshines this one. Nevertheless, The Big Short follows the build-up to the 2008 housing market crash and focuses on a few outsiders who knew it was bound for failure beforehand. Bale plays Michael Burry, a one-eyed hedge fund manager who was looked at and made fun of for years because he believed that the crash was imminent and saw what nobody else could. Bale crushes this role, perfecting the awkwardness and sometimes arrogance of the real Michael Burry. As far as the film goes, writer and director Adam McKay does a brilliant job at keeping what some might consider a boring topic entertaining as hell which ends up landing this film at the number four spot on this list.
Even while having a smaller role, Bale steals the show. Writer and Director David O. Russell brings us an amazing true story about a boxer on the rise, Micky Ward (Mark Whalberg) who’s trying to escape his troubled, older boxing brother, Dicky’s (Christian Bale) shadow. This movie is full of great performances but Bale is by far the standout. He is at the top of his game here and it’s no surprise that he received an Academy Award for his performance in this film. Bale plays a crackhead who thinks he’s helping his brother out but in reality, is causing the biggest problem. The transformation Bale’s character undergoes is remarkably captured and it’s clear he gives this role his all.
The ultimate Batman film, The Dark Knight is not only the greatest superhero film of all time, but it also features one of Bale’s most iconic performances. When the Joker begins to cause chaos in Gotham City, Batman is forced to take him down and fight his toughest physical and mental challenge yet. Many of you might’ve thought this would be at the number one slot, but it’s at two for a reason. Heath Ledger overshadows Bale’s performance as the best in the film. Don’t get me wrong, Bale is yet again, amazing as Batman and Bruce Wayne, but Ledger’s performance as the Joker is one of the greatest performances of all time. As far as the movie goes, it’s spectacular, but it doesn’t quite make the number one spot on this list. Bale was already an established actor at this point and he really didn’t break any new ground with this performance.
No, I’m not putting the Dark Knight over this. Sure it might be a better film, but when it comes to pure Bale enjoyment, this performance and movie top them all. American Psycho is pure insanity as Bale plays an odd yet successful investment banker by day and a crazed serial killer by night. As ridiculous as this movie is, there are so many quotable lines in this divisive slasher flick from the turn of the century which my brother and I quote daily. Bale is given free rein on this assignment and he’s able to show off his acting prowess on all levels by playing a character with no limits. The film is timeless and violently hysterical, sorry but I’m done with this description, I have to return some videotapes.