Worst To Best: Christian Bale

Empire Of The Sun (1987)

The Film: Steven Spielberg’s epic war drama – and at 152 minutes long, it really is epic. The plot follows young Jamie (Bale), who tries to survive during the Japanese occupation in the Second World War.

Bale Intensity: Just 12 years old at the time, Bale beat 4,000 other young hopefuls to the role of Jamie, proving Spielberg really does have an eye for burgeoning talent.

3:10 To Yuma (2007)

The Film: The second film to adapt Elmore Leonard’s short story Three-Ten To Yuma (the first was in 1957), Yuma sees a rancher holding an outlaw captive as he awaits transportation.

Bale Intensity:
Bale dials down the intensity to deliver a measured, surprisingly quiet turn as a put-upon everyman. A sure sign of the actor’s diversity.

The Machinist (2004)

The Film: Bale plays a factory worker with a case of insomnia so severe that he begins to doubt his own sanity.

Bale Intensity: If there’s one word that can be used synonymous with ‘Bale’, it’s ‘dedication’. He proved how far he was willing to go for a role with The Machinist , which saw him lose over 60 pounds. It’s all the more shocking when you remember this wasn’t even a year before he shot Batman Begins…

The Fighter (2010)

The Film: Autobiographical drama that centres around boxer brothers Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his tear away brother Dicky (Bale).

Bale Intensity: Barely recognizable as the gaunt, rakish Dicky, Bale shed the pounds again after bulking up for The Dark Knight . His dedication to the role was paramount – he even performed Dicky-esque vanishing acts for hours on end throughout filming.

Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

The Film: Studio Ghibli’s epic animated fantasy in which a young girl is cursed into an old woman’s body and must find a way to break the spell.

Bale Intensity: Bale signed on to voice the English-language version of Castle after seeing Spirited Away . Good thing, too, because he brings a trembling intensity to the character of Howl that might have been lost in the hands of a lesser actor.

Batman Begins (2005)

The Film: Nolan reboots big screen Batman with a grounded, staggeringly realistic take on the material. He also shoves Batman front and centre for, arguably, the first time cinematically.

Bale Intensity: The gruff, guttural ‘Bat voice’ surprised viewers, but it’s a typically ‘out there’ quirk from an actor who’s never afraid to try new things. In Bale’s capable hands, Nolan’s ambition to make a Batman film actually about Batman succeeds majestically – Bale’s Bat is fascinating, multi-faceted and a genuine hero.

The Prestige (2006)

The Film: Warring magicians clash in Chris Nolan’s effortlessly stylish period thriller.

Bale Intensity: Bale re-teams with his Batman Begins director and the result is just as solid, with Bale on fine form as the technically brilliant but otherwise nondescript young Alfred Borden.

The Dark Knight (2008)

The Film: Second in Nolan’s Bat trilogy, and the most popular of all three, not least because this is the one where Batman goes up against his legendary arch-nemesis – The Joker (Heath Ledger).

Bale Intensity: Even faced with a scene-stealing Ledger, Bale manages to do remarkable things with Batman. Gifted with a strong script and character arc, Bale squeezes it for all it’s worth, meaning we’re desperate for him to suit up again.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The Film: Bale and Nolan cap off their Bat trilogy in style, with Batman forced out of retirement when Gotham falls prey to the towering uber-villain that is Bane (Tom Hardy).

Bale Intensity: He’s been acting since 1986, and Rises is the pinnacle of Bale’s career so far. After two films playing Bruce Wayne, he finds fresh angles to explore, bringing the character full circle with poise, humour and bravado. It’s a bittersweet thing – this is the last time Bale will don the Batsuit, but we have three damn near perfect films to enjoy for years to come.

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.