The Fighter (2010)
The role Bale inhabits the role of local boxing legend-turned-layabout Dicky Eklund, who cemented his 15 minutes of glory back in the ’80s when he knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard in the middle of a headline bout but is now a brash crack addict who could stand in the way of his brother’s own rise as a boxer.
What EW says Owen Gleiberman: ”Bale, cadaverous and google-eyed, with a jack-o’-lantern grin and an energy so manic it borders on the obscene, finally takes the compulsion toward Method eccentricity that’s been driving him for close to a decade and makes it pay off. His Dicky is that rare thing: a wing nut with soul and a touch of tragedy, too.”
Empire of the Sun (1987)
The role In his breakout performance, Bale carried an epic Steven Spielberg movie on his 13-year-old shoulders, playing Jim Graham, a British boy in WWII-era Shanghai who is separated from his aristocrat parents, captured by the Japanese, and held in a POW camp.
What EW said Not much — we didn’t exist yet! But Janet Maslin of The New York Times had this to say about the budding actor: ”Mr. Bale… at first seems just a handsome and malleable young performer, another charming child star. But the epic street scene that details the Japanese invasion of the city and separates Jim from his parents reveals this boy to be something more. As Mr. Bale, standing atop a car amid thousands of extras and clasping his hands to his head, registers the fact that Jim is suddenly alone, he conveys the schoolboy’s real terror and takes the film to a different dramatic plane.”
The role In this Disney musical, Bale sings and dances as an underdog newsboy who organizes a strike in turn-of-the-century New York.
What EW said Owen Gleiberman: ”The relentless, rah-rah boosterism of Newsies feels hollow and slightly absurd; it no longer has any connection to the mood of the country. The movie stands as a textbook demonstration of why they don’t — and probably shouldn’t — make ’em like they used to.”
Velvet Goldmine (1998)
The role Arthur Stuart, a reporter looking into the life (and staged death) of a David Bowie-esque glam rocker (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) he worshipped as a teen.
What EW said Owen Gleiberman: ”An elegant fantasia… Velvet Goldmine is no masterpiece, but, at its best, it’s a ravishing rock dream.”
Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001)
The role In another World War II-set movie, Bale plays Madras, a Greek fisherman whose intended (Penélope Cruz) falls for the Italian captain of the title (Nicolas Cage).
What EW said Lisa Schwarzbaum: ”Pearl Harbor for the English Patient crowd — a movie that reduces history, as well as eros, to a postcard…. The Greek townsfolk in this history-inspired story glow with ethnic pride. Then they dance. Life is hard but photogenic.”
Reign of Fire (2002)
The role Quinn Abercromby, a haunted Brit who teams up with a badass American (Matthew McConaughey) to slay the fire-breathing dragons that have destroyed much of the earth.
What EW said Lisa Schwarzbaum: ”Reign is a rip-roaring, videogame-busy, Mad Maximum entertainment in which Matthew ‘Offense!’ McConaughey, as the bonkers Yank leader (shaved head, bulging biceps, tattoos, and biker beard straight out of Oz), rolls into the British fortress headed by Christian ‘Defense!’ Bale (whose sensitivity is as shaggy as his haircut), and the two joust for leadership.”
Laurel Canyon (2002)
The role Psychiatry student Sam, who brings his impressionable fiancée (Kate Beckinsale) to meet his estranged, freewheeling record-producer mother (Frances McDormand).
What EW said Lisa Schwarzbaum: ”The characters are tedious, as are the fussy performances of Bale and Beckinsale. Everything good in this rock & roll fantasy belongs to the sexy, worldly-wise McDormand, who makes Jane ripe, real, and irresistible.”
The Machinist (2004)
The role Bale notoriously dropped 63 pounds to play Trevor Reznick, an insomniac factory worker who begins to question his own sanity.
What EW said Lisa Schwarzbaum: ”There’s not a minute we watch Bale, stumbling hollow-eyed through a green-gray world of alienation and paranoia…that we dare forget the millions who have died — in famines, in sickness, in concentration camps — desperate for the nourishment Bale so arbitrarily declined to play a make-believe character in a movie. Such boniness is obscene.”
Batman Begins (2005)
The role In the Christopher Nolan-directed origin story, Bale is Bruce Wayne, the millionaire businessman who avenges his parents’ murders by suiting up as the Dark Knight and fighting crime in the corrupt Gotham City.
What EW said Lisa Schwarzbaum: ”A triumph — a confidently original, engrossing interpretation…. Even the greenest newbie to the hagiography knows [the details of Batman’s beginnings]. But knowing doesn’t pack the same pleasurable jolt as seeing primly smoldering Christian Bale’s Batman No. 4 play so comfortably against expansively proper Michael Caine’s Alfred (taking over for Michael Gough as if to the manor born) and watching the two devise the very first Batsuit.”
The Prestige (2006)
The role In his second collaboration with director Christopher Nolan, the auteur behind such dark fare as Batman Begins and Memento, Bale plays Alfred Borden, a turn-of-the-century Londoner whose escalating rivalry with a fellow magician (Hugh Jackman) turns deadly.
What EW said Owen Gleiberman: ”The Prestige leaps around in time with dizzy abandon, a deliberate strategy to make magic seem like the most concrete, grounded thing in the movie…. Jackman, all keen intensity, and Bale, who knows how to push passion to the brink of pathology, are magnetic foils.”
Rescue Dawn (2007)
The role Dieter Dengler, a U.S. Navy pilot who, in 1966, was shot down and held captive in a Laos jungle prison; after rallying his fellow prisoners, the real-life hero led their narrow escape and rescue.
What EW said Lisa Schwarzbaum: ”Bale’s surprise in Rescue Dawn is the lightness of being — the modest, good-natured grace — that he locates in Dengler even under the most agonizing conditions. I’ve never seen the actor look more at home with his own taut charisma, or put his sinewy physicality to more rewarding use.”
3:10 to Yuma (2007)
The role In an action-packed, bullets-blazing remake of a 1957 little-known classic Western, Bale goes mano a mano with Russell Crowe as a down-on-his-luck rancher who, in need of dough, joins the posse responsible for transporting Crowe’s deadly but erudite outlaw to justice.
What EW said Owen Gleiberman: ”[Bale] makes Evans a real Method scraggle-puss: all scowling impotence and hardened pride, his eyeballs burning out of that gaunt face. What gives the story its kick is that Wade, the courtly sociopath, is free to do the things he thinks everyone secretly wants to do, whereas Evans, with a wife (Gretchen Mol) who has turned cool to him and a teenage son (Logan Lerman) who doesn’t respect him, is drowning in quiet misery. He’s honorable, but is he a man?”
I'm Not There (2007)
The role No one would ever confuse the chiseled Method actor for music legend Bob Dylan, but director Todd Haynes hired him to portray one incarnation of the folksinger (alongside Cate Blanchett and Heath Ledger, who play Dylan at other times in his life) in this daring and edgy biopic.
What EW said Owen Gleiberman: ”One feels a redemption of the most ironic kind when Bale shows up as the born-again Christian Bob, singing the transcendent (if little-known) song “Pressing On” to a rec-room congregation in the early ’80s.”
The Dark Knight (2008)
The role Teaming up for a third time with director Christopher Nolan, Bale dusts off his Batsuit to play the millionaire by day, conflicted Caped Crusader by night who comes to Gotham’s rescue when a clown-faced lunatic called the Joker (Heath Ledger) launches a deadly destruction spree.
What EW says Owen Gleiberman: ”Bale, all steely reserve, once again captivates as the haunted Caped Crusader who must shed morality to beat the devil at his game. But just as Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman was anchored by the joy-buzzer glee of Jack Nicholson’s party-down Joker, The Dark Knight takes its cue from its Joker and his deadly circus of chaos.”
Public Enemies (2009)
The role In Michael Mann’s handsome, underheated gangster drama, Bale is G-man Melvin Purvis, who’s got his sights set on bringing in Public Enemy No. 1 John Dillinger (Johnny Depp).
What EW said Lisa Schwarzbaum: ”Purvis, played with a buttoned-down agent’s tight jaw by Christian Bale, is obsessed with an efficient, clean pursuit of justice, and as he and his team hunt Dillinger and his accomplices, the lawman is distressed to realize that purity of purpose isn’t easy to maintain in the new, modern Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
Terminator Salvation (2009)
The role Once again the machines are after John Connor (Bale), the leader of rebel fighters during the human-machine war, who is trying to protect teenager Kyle Reese who will grow up to be Connor’s father.
What EW said Owen Gleiberman: ”Bale brings the role his usual stylish, seething edge. He seems ready to blow at any moment, making his infamous on-set tantrum look less like a case of star egomania than like a Method actor’s refusal to break character gone amok.”