As is the case with most stars of iconic super hero movies, Christian Bale’s legacy will always go something like Bruce Wayne first, any other role second. His turn as the Dark Knight resonates with many as the definitive name in Batman movies, but those familiar with his body of work know that playing the Caped Crusader (Bat-lisp and all) doesn’t do his talent justice. Considering his incredible body of work, Bale has to be considered one of his generation’s premier actors, neck-in-neck with the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon. What follows is a list of his absolute best work done outside of the realm of Gotham City. Before you flock to movie theaters July 20 to watch Christopher Nolan’s conclusion, be sure to check out the following classic Bale cuts.
1. Empire Of The Sun (1987)
Bale’s first major role came with Steven Spielberg sitting in the director’s chair. That must have been tough. Playing a young British teenager separated from his parents in Japan, Bale showcased an uncanny ability to carry a movie, and as a 14-year-old no less. Even when working around a strong cast – featuring All-Star curmudgeon John Malkovich – Bale was the best part of Empire. So good, in fact, that he earned the “Best Performance By A Juvenile Actor” award from the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures.
2. American Psycho (2000)
One of Bale’s iconic roles, this satire on 1980s “yuppy” culture saw him laying waste to legions of New York City socialites as Patrick Bateman. Seeing Bale put on such a sociopathic facade is equal parts haunting and hilarious. It also makes for a fun drinking game: every time you actually find yourself rooting for Bateman to kill one of his douchey victims, drink. You’ll be seeing double by half-time.
3. The Machinist (2004)
Bale redefined “dedication” by dropping more than 60 pounds to play the role of Trevor Reznik, an insomnia and guilt-riddled mechanist. Easily one of the most haunting films that Bale has starred in. Good luck sleeping after you see his wiry creation slither around for two hours.
4. The Prestige (2006)
The Christopher Nolan-Christian Bale relationship proves to thrive outside of the Gotham City limits. This Nolan-directed magician flick benefits from an excellent script that always keeps the audience on its toes, completely blurring the line between protagonist and antagonist. Playing the foil to Hugh Jackman, the intentions of Bale’s Alfred Borden are ambiguous throughout. Scarlett Johansson’s inclusion doesn’t hurt the cause.
5. 3:10 To Yuma (2007)
As a genre, the Western is dying out. Don’t blame Bale for that. Here he plays a crippled rancher tasked with a seemingly impossible order of transporting an incarcerated outlaw played by Russell Crowe to a train station through violent terrain. Seeing Bale’s Dan Evans try to persevere despite being dealt a shit hand is the stuff of inspirational movie lore. Add in a “have to make right by my son” subplot, and 3:10 is downright tear-jerking.
6. I’m Not There (2007)
Along with five other actors (including the late Heath Ledger), Bale portrayed folk legend Bob Dylan in this 2007 biopic. One of the most original depictions of a musician you’ll ever see, nothing about I’m Not There is linear. The six actors portrayed six different chapters in Dylan’s life, but it was Bale who was tasked with covering the “Times They Are a-Changing” period, easily Dylan’s most recognized form.
7. The Fighter (2010)
After years of building up a name, Bale finally won an Academy Award for his role in The Fighter. Playing the crack-addicted brother to Mark Wahlburg’s depiction of real-life champ Mickey Ward, Bale knocked this performance out of the park as a scoundrel that audiences couldn’t help but love. His acting chops really don’t need further promotion. Watch any of the numerous crack abuse scenes, and Bale’s stature as one of his generation’s best goes without question.