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Worst To Best: Christian Bale

All The Little Animals (1998)

The Film: Bobby Platt (Bale) escapes an abusive father, befriending an old man with whom he wanders the highway and buries dead animals.

Bale Intensity: Bale strikes gold as Bobby, a ‘slow’ young man who’s essentially a 10 year old trapped in a 25-year-old man’s body. It’s one of the most absorbing, multi-faceted roles he’s ever tackled.

Public Enemies (2009)

The Film: Michael Mann takes us on a trip back to the 1930s, where gangster John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) is making a living robbing banks. FBI agent Melvin Purvis (Bale) is the one on his tail.

Bale Intensity: Mann exploits Bale’s trademark intensity well here, never giving the character much more than a perfunctory backstory and one single goal – to stop Dillinger at all costs. It’s a streamlined approach that works beautifully thanks to Bale.

Harsh Times (2005)

The Film: Former petty criminal Jim Davis (Bale) falls back into bad habits when he fails to get a job with the LAPD.

Bale Intensity: Director David Ayer offered Bale the job after previously auditioning him for a role in Training Day (that role went to Ethan Hawke). The reason he liked the Brit actor? Naturally, his intensity…

Little Women (1994)

The Film: Based on Louisa May Alcott’s novel, this Oscar-nominated drama follows the March sisters as they’re raised during the American Civil War.

Bale Intensity: Far from the intensity he’s most known for now, Bale makes for an affable everyman in Little Women – a handsome, charming good guy. He even manages to strike some decent chemistry with Winona Ryder.

Treasure Island (1990)

The Film: One of numerous film adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson’s defining swashbuckler. Bale plays Jim Hawkins, whose encounter with Captain Billy Bones sets him on a sea-swept voyage.

Bale Intensity: A likeably, wily young hero, Bale plays it straight and narrow and emerges as one of the definitive on-screen Hawkins’.

Rescue Dawn (2006)

The Film: Vietnam War drama in which a US Fighter Pilot attempts to survive in the wild after being shot down during battle.

Bale Intensity: Bale’s obsession with losing and putting on weight for roles during the Noughties saw him shift 55 pounds for Rescue Dawn . Worse still, he ate real worms for a scene...

The Flowers Of War (2011)

The Film: Historical war drama from director Yimou Zhang. Bale plays John Miller, a Westerner who poses as a priest in a church that’s a refuge for Japanese women in 1937.

Bale Intensity: Though he’s not given loads of material to work with, Bale effortlessly reflects the horror of the war in his glassy eyes – it’s through him that the story gets its emotional heft.

Equilibrium (2002)

The Film: Greenlit in the wake of The Matrix ’s success, that era defining film’s influences are all over this otherwise enjoyable sci-fi – not least in the numerous dazzling action scenes.

Bale Intensity: Think it really looked like Bale was fighting Taye Diggs in the film? He was – the kendo-style swords they used during the fight kept breaking because the actors were continually hitting each other with them. Now that’s dedication.

Henry V (1989)

The Film: Kenneth Branagh’s Oscar-sweeping adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play about England’s conquest of France.

Bale Intensity: A young Bale makes a blink-miss appearance in Branagh’s classic adap during one of the film’s most affecting scenes, as Henry V carries him through a battlefield to breath-taking musical cues.

American Psycho (2000)

The Film: Mary Harron’s timely, unflinching adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s controversial novel about a Wall Street executive (Bale) who goes on a murder spree.

Bale Intensity:
Before he embarked on alternating crash diets with hours down the gym, Bale underwent a complete transformation to play Patrick Bateman. On top of intensive work-outs, he got his teeth fixed – then spent the entire shoot speaking with an American accent.

Joshua Winning

Josh Winning has worn a lot of hats over the years. Contributing Editor at Total Film, writer for SFX, and senior film writer at the Radio Times. Josh has also penned a novel about mysteries and monsters, is the co-host of a movie podcast, and has a library of pretty phenomenal stories from visiting some of the biggest TV and film sets in the world. He would also like you to know that he "lives for cat videos..." Don't we all, Josh. Don't we all.