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Best Christian Bale Movies

Updated on October 5, 2014

Film critic Roger Ebert once said of Christian Bale's performance in American Psycho, "There is no instinct for self-preservation here, and that is one mark of a good actor." While Ebert was specifically referring to Bale's breakout performance in the film adaption of Bret Easton Ellis's novel, the same can be said for nearly all of this fiercely private actor's on-screen roles.

Welsh-born Christian Bale has been gaining acclaim for his roles both in blockbuster films such as Christopher Nolan's Batman films as well as arthouse films like The Machinist and Harsh Times. He has shown an ability to completely transform himself for a role as he did as Dicky Ecklund in The Fighter and losing 60 pounds for his haunting role as Trevor Reznik in The Machinist.

ChristianBale won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the aforementioned role in The Fighter. Bale's choice of roles have made this reclusive actor both a critics' darling and an everyman actor. I think we can be confident that he will pick up many more award nominations in the future and will likely win a few more Oscars before his acting career concludes.

This ranking of the top ten best Christian Bale movies is based on the movie rankings of members at Rankography top ten movies.

Guest article by Brooklyn77

All rights reserved. Copyright 2012 Rankography

10. Rescue Dawn (2006)

Warner Herzog and Christian Bale Collaborate on this War Movie

Not to be confused with Patrick Swayze's Red Dawn (my guilty pleasure of the '80s), Rescue Dawn features ChristianBale in another inspirational biopic. It is the story of Dieter Dengler (Bale), a German-American pilot who was shot down and captured by the Vietcong. He is tortured and befriends five other prisoners. Dengler develops an escape plan, but initially one of his friends, Gene (Jeremy Davies). Later, after they learn that the prison has run out of food and they plan to kill the prisoners, they implement his plan only to face even greater obstacles in the jungle beyond.

Bale crossed another legendary Director off of his bucket list in working with Warner Herzog on this film. In what could be the highest compliment bestowed upon any actor of our time, Herzog proclaimed Bale as "one of the greatest talents of our generation." This film is also notable in that it is a dramatization of the same Director's acclaimed documentary film, Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997), describing the same events.

If you liked Rescue Dawn... - You might also like Courage Under Fire

Courage Under Fire
Courage Under Fire
This outstanding film about the trouble in the gulf war stars Denzel Washington and Meg Ryan. It is a compelling film with lots of twists and turns.

9. Empire of the Sun (1987)

An Amazing Portrayal in Bales's First Feature Film

Spielberg still considers this his greatest epic film in its portrayal of Japanese internment camps. It was not a blockbuster at the box office like is other films, but it is true cinematic genius. Empire of the Sun was Spielberg's first foray's into the Epic genre that would later produce Schinlder's List, Amistad and Lincoln. It is hard to imagine a 13 year old acting as brilliantly as Christian Bale in Empire of the Sun. His performance is absolutely riveting!

Empire of the Sun was Bale's first theatrical film and he played, Jamie Graham, a young British subject who becomes imprisoned in a Japanese internment camp in World War II. Despite sickness and starvation in the camp, Graham maintains his spirit and garners respect from the other inmates. This semi-autobiographical film was nominated for six Academy Awards.

So few actors are able to successfully make the transition from child actor to adult while continuing to earn good roles. However Bale's performance in this film, created a lot of visibility and placed him among the ranks of Jodie Foster, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Joaquin Phoenix, as one of the few child actors that transitioned to critically acclaimed future star.

If you enjoyed Empire of the Sun... - You might also enjoy Hope and Glory

Hope and Glory
Hope and Glory
A fascinating tale of World War II, as seen through the eyes of a seven year old

8. Public Enemies (2009)

A Film of the Manhunt for Dillinger in the 1930s

Christian Bale's dark presence and elusive nature seemed to be a perfect match for the noir style of Director, Michael Mann, in Public Enemies. In the 1930s, John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) was public enemy #1 for his string of bank robberies around the country. However, Dillinger was not a normal criminal. He insisted that his teams not hurt any of the innocent bystanders and they never took money from "regular Joes" As a result, instead of being feared, he was actually was gaining a cult hero following around the country.

The FBI made it a top priority to catch Dillinger, either dead or alive, both because of his crime and because of the dangerous cult following he was building. Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) was assigned to run the group and the manhunt began.

While Bale and Depp worked well together, I expected more from this film given the true story history and all the best ingredients. Check this one out for the cinematography of a well-shot golden age, as well as the star power both in front of and behind the camera, but a film that had promised high tension seemed to languish in too much tedium in the end.

If you enjoyed Public Enemies... - You may also like Donnie Brasco

Donnie Brasco (Special Edition)
Donnie Brasco (Special Edition)
A true story biopic based on the life of Joe PIstone, who went undercover to penetrate the mob in New York City. Starring Al Pacino and Johnny Depp, this gangster movie was both a drama and a thriller as Pistone tries to avoid being caught.

7. 3:10 to Yuma (2007)

A Great Western with the Pace of a Thriller

3:10 from Yuma is a remake of a classic 1957 Western that was based on a short story by Elmore Leonard. It is a twisting, turning tale in which Dan Evans (Bale), a dedicated family rancher in Arizona, and his two boys happen upon a hold-up of stagecoach by a gang led by the notorious gangster, Ben Wade (Russell Crowe). The gang kills everyone on the stage except for one who lives through a shot to the stomach. Evans and his sons take the injured man to town and identify Wade and his gang as the perpetrators. Wade separates from his gang (thinking there were no survivors) and meets up with Emma Nelson (Vinessa Shaw) in a nearby saloon, but with Wade's positive ID, the sheriff surrounds the saloon and captures Wade.

Evans volunteers for the posse responsible for getting Wade to the 3:10 train to Yuma. However, Wade's gang led by the sadistic Charlie Prince (Ben Foster) is trying to free Wade. Against all odds, Evans is determined to fulfill the mission to get Wade to the train even after all of the other posse members drop out of the mission.

This was the first Christian Bale film with the Wild West as a backdrop and it delivers all of the thrills that were promised. The philosophical discussions between Evans and Wade really make the movie as we watch each of the characters transform in interesting ways during the film. Bale pulled off one of the more challenging roles facing an actor -- a good guy who must compete with a sympathetic villain, the kind of bad guy that the audience hopes will get away.

Regardless of the outcome, this one is great fun, a good opportunity to watch two of the finest actors of our generation in dual lead roles. Check this one out, even if you don't normally consider yourself a fan of the Western genre.

If you enjoyed 3:10 to Yuma... - You should also like Seraphim Falls

Seraphim Falls
Seraphim Falls
Another recent Western film that is filled with lots of plot twists. The film features Liam Neeson and Pierce Brosnan.

6. The Fighter (2010)

Christian Bale's Award Winning Role as Dicky Ecklund

Christian Bale's years of hard work and careful film selection finally paid off in 2010 when he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in his portrayal of washed boxer and struggling junkie, Dicky Ecklund. This biopic of Boston-area boxer, Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his unlikely rise to capture the World Light Welterweight title. He was trained and shepherded by Ecklund (Bale), who was struggling with is drug addiction throughout.

Bale's Ecklund is a beautifully robust character, full of humor, angst and despair. We see him leap from tall windows into garbage dumpsters to escape the scorn of his family members, get high and skip out on his obligations to Micky, and is ultimately imprisoned and forced to clean up his act as he struggles to win back his protege's trust and his friends' respect.

The Fighter could have easily been a full feature devoted specifically to the life and career of Dicky Ecklund -- and Bale plays his role as if it were that important. However, because this is Micky Ward's story, Bale still shines in a supporting role but reserves his ego well-enough to intentionally avoid overshadowing his co-star, Mark Wahlberg, and the subject of this inspirational film.

The Fighter was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. It won two Oscars including Best Supporting Actor (Bale) and Best Supporting Actress (Melissa Leo).

If you enjoyed The Fighter... - You should also enjoy The Wrestler

5. The Machinist (2004)

Psychological Thriller Showing Bale's Dedication to his Craft

Directed by Brad Anderson (Happy Accidents, Session 8, Transsiberia), this film is perhaps most known and memorable for the rigors through which Christian Bale had tortured his body in preparing for his role. Bale lost 60 pounds off an already thin frame and looked emaciated.

Trevor Reznick (Bale) is a troubled machinist who has wasted away by starving himself. He has isolated himself from everyone but a prostitute that has fallen for him despite his strange behavior. He has grown increasingly paranoid and the audience is slowly given snippets of the events that have led to his mental issues.

This little-seen arthouse film is a creepy, psychological thriller in the spirit of Jacob's Ladder and was deserving of a much larger audience. Following in the footsteps of other great actors, like Robert DeNiro, that have transformed their body for a role, Bale pushed himself to the extremes of weight loss to eventually tip the scales at a meager 130 lbs. Watch this film and you will find it difficult to believe that no special effects were used to achieve his meager frame. But even more importantly than the weight loss, ChristianBale gives us a stunning acting performance and sinister glimpse at the effects of event-driven mental illness.

This psychological thriller takes many twists and turns along the way and will keep you guessing until the very end. While not the best overall film on the list, it is definitely a must see film for its interesting and though provoking themes.

If you were compelled by The Machinist... - You may also want to see Memento

4. American Psycho (2000)

A Grim and Creepy Glimpse into a Psychotic Killer

Critics and moviegoers agree on one thing about this polarizing adaption of Bret Easton Ellis's yuppie, serial killer, Wall Street satire, Christian Bale's performance as psychopath and pop culture aficionado, Patrick Bateman, is a tour de force. Bale commands the screen in a way that is at once skittish, chilling, charming, and full of bravado, and his dedication to the role is breathtaking.

Unfortunately, the grim and violent subject matter of the film doesn't quite hold up for some viewers, especially when set against an ironic and nostalgic backdrop of the Wall Street, Gecko greed. This film may be difficult to watch for the squeamish but it is nonetheless required viewing for fans of Bale or acting students. If Christian Bale had not been cast as the hero of Christopher Nolan's Batman films, he certainly would have made a convincing villain on par with the likes of the his Dark Knight co-star, Heath Ledger.

If you enjoyed American Psycho... - You may also like Monster

3. The Prestige (2006)

A Historical Thriller with Murder, Intrigue and Forbidden Love

This film, directed by Christopher Nolan, is a personal favorite of mine despite being slightly overshadowed by that "other magic movie" released around the same time period, The Illusionist. However, The Prestige was short on romance and drama and longer on mystery and illusion.

Alfred Borden (Bale) and Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) start out as friends as young magicians apprenticing under Milton (Ricky Jay). However, when Angier's wife Julia (Piper Perabo) is killed in an 'accident' that Borden bears some responsibility for, they become bitter rivals. The film unfold as the testimony of Cutter (Michael Caine), a friend to both men, during the Angier's murder investigation and and describes their lengthy and complicated relationship.

The films is full of complicated plot twists and the surprise ending is enough to earn your viewing, but the film itself -- buoyed by Bale's clever performance -- does not lose its allure upon repeat viewings and is a triumph for Nolan in the historical fiction genre.

If you liked The Prestige... - You might also like The Illusionist

2. Batman Begins (2005)

Christopher Nolan Recasts this Series in a Darker Light

Batman Begins is the first installment of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight films introduced fan boys and casual moviegoers alike to Christian Bale as the new man behind the dark superhero. Joining the ranks of Michael Keaton, George Clooney, Val Kilmer and Adam West, Bale is the lastest actor to portray Gotham's dark knight and most would argue that he is clearly head and shoulders above the rest.

How appropriate then that not only was this the origin story of the crime-fighting vigilante from Gotham City, but also a platform for showcasing Bale to a larger and more commercial audience. And while the film achieved a respectable level of critical and box-office success, it would just be a minor blip compared to the enormous achievements of the sequel, The Dark Knight The anticipation for the final installment in this series, The Dark Knight Rises, could be the hottest box office ticket in 2012 and one that is sure to solidify Bale's starpower and visibility.

Batman Begins starts with Bruce Wayne as a child who witnesses his parents murder at the hands of petty thief. After growing up, he learns that his parents' murderer is being released and he vows to exact revenge. However, before he can someone else jumps in front of him to kill the man. Despondent and confused, he vows to decides to leave the wealth and comfort of his Gotham home and wander the World to search for himself. It is during this journey that he becomes the fighter that we know as Batman. Nolan has cast the Batman legend in a much darker light than we have seen before and this film lays the entire foundation for the series.

Batman Begins was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography.

If you liked Batman Begins... - You may also enjoy 300

1. The Dark Knight (2008)

Probably the Greatest Comic Book Movie Ever

In the film that provided Christian Bale with the widest exposure, he was overshadowed by the iconic and posthumous performance of Heath Ledger as The Joker. The box office success of The Dark Knight may have had little to do with Bale's involvement, but his understated if even slightly invisible portrayal of Bruce Wayne helped enhance the effect that Nolan was striving for...making this less a "superhero movie" than a taut, realistic thriller about organized crime.

Ultimately, The Dark Knight is a morality tale investigating the line dividing heroes from vigilantes. And unlike the highly colorful and comical incarnations of the previous Batman characters by his predecessors, Christian Bale's Batman is a moody, brooding, dark and enigmatic character -- much like his perceived real life personality.

Hailed as the greatest superhero movie of all time, it is hard to argue with that title. Christopher Nolan brings such a unique dark backdrop and amazing cinematography combined with special performances from the star-studded cast including Bale, Ledger, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Eric Roberts.

The Dark Knight was nominated for eight Academy Award and won two Oscars for Best Supporting Actor (Ledger) and Best Sound Editing.

If you liked The Dark Knight... - You might also like V for Vendetta

Which is your favorite of these Christian Bale Films?

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Any thoughts on ChristianBale and his films?

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    • saifhayel profile image


      6 years ago

      Agree with "The Dark Knight being no.1" but I think "The Prestige" should be no.2

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I watched some scary movies with Bale around the Halloween season, again. He is a pretty amazing. How do you get into those characters he portrays?

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 

      8 years ago from Ljubljana

      Christian Bale always managed to surprise me with his acting abilities. He is not a typical 'star material', but if we look for an actor who can portray virtually anybody he should be at the top of the list.

    • Rankography profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      @Johanna Eisler: No problem Joie. I have not seen Newsies, but I am going to check it out on your recommendation.

    • Johanna Eisler profile image

      Johanna Eisler 

      8 years ago

      @Johanna Eisler: Sorry, Rankography - when I talked about your name, I had read the name of the author of the guest article - Brooklyn77.

    • GabStar profile image


      8 years ago


    • profile image


      8 years ago

      A very talented man. I love watching his movies.

    • Johanna Eisler profile image

      Johanna Eisler 

      9 years ago

      I haven't seen many of his recent films because of my personal aversion to violence - but I thought he made a wonderful Laurie in Little Women. Your name makes me think you might have enjoyed him in Newsies, too - right? That was my daughter's favorite. There's a brand-new version of that right now on Broadway! Wow!

    • BunnyFabulous profile image

      Erin Hardison 

      9 years ago from Memphis, TN

      Great list of his films. Excellent actor.


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