Oscar History

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Posterized: Christian Bale

In the Posterized series we look at a whole career though the most enduring bit of movie marketing: the poster. You'd think that when two of your first three film roles as a young boy were Oscar nominated wonders (Henry V and Empire of the Sun), there'd be nowhere to go but down. In the case of Christian Bale, you'd be wrong. His rise to the top, though, was not without its long stretches of 'this might not happen at all.' Younger readers might not realize that Bale was a fan favorite in the 1990s -- "Baleheads" they called his stans -- long before fandom was empowered by the internet. His star might have risen a lot faster if tumblr had been in existence during his slow climb.

Bale is back. And so is his yo-yo dieting

Now, of course, his career is very much happening / has happened.  The literally shape-shifting A lister has two new movies opening this weekend (Out of the Furnace) and next (American Hustle) and he's skinny in one and thick in the other as is his way. Also his way: winning "Great Actor" reviews for every single performance. It's always an unpleasant surprise to remember that he's only ever been Oscar nominated once (The Fighter). At least he won on his first and only shot at gold to date.

Let's look at his career from the very beginning. How many of these 36 have you seen

The Child Star Years. His feature debut, The Empire of the Sun (1987) released when he was all of 13 years of age, the little seen Mio in the Land of Faraway (released in 1988), and Henry V (1989) which introduced audiences to Emma Thompson & Kenneth Branagh. Bale has a key small but moving role.

Teen Heart Throb
Bale's brief period as a song & dance man with Newsies (1992) & Swing Kids (1993). They weren't "hits" per se (initially) but were popular in the home video market. He followed them with Royal Deceit (1994) which has sometimes been repackaged on DVD with Bale featured more prominently on the cover and renamed "The Prince of Jutland" - it's Hamlet centric.

Ensemble Player
Bale turns 20 and recedes (for a short time) to all supporting roles: Little Women (1994), The Portait of a Lady (1996), and The Secret Agent (1996) ... and voice work as "Thomas" in Pocahontas (1995) though he doesn't get to sing which is a bummer because you've seen Newsies, right?

Arthouse Darling
Metroland (1997),  Velvet Goldmine (1998), All the Little Animals (1998)

The Shotgun Approach
The late 90s through the early 00s featured such a wide range of roles and genres that he or his agent was clearly trying to find his niche, or the movie that would unlock his talent for the masses. Contrary to modern belief American Psycho (2000) was not really it. Now, *I* nominated him for it here at the inaugural Film Bitch Awards but mostly that movie was a slow burn, collecting its devoted audience slowly over the next decade. Anyone remember that that role was supposed to belong to Leonardo DiCaprio? Different world it would have been. But seriously what is going on here with this collection: Midsummer Nights' Dream (1999), Mary, Mother of Jesus (it's a TV movie but I include it because it's so interesting that he played Jesus back-to-back with Patrick Bateman), American Psycho (2000), Shaft (2000), Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001), Laurel Canyon (2002... that rare occurence when everyone else seems to outshine him).

But American Psycho still changed things. From here on out he's basically a leading man who occassionally takes a supporting gig in an interesting movie.

Leading Man in Training
They thought dragons were a better selling point for the gonzo Reign of Fire (2002) than Bale or Matthew McConaughey though their faces were suddenly giant when the film hit DVD. Equilibrium (2002) paired him with Taye Diggs who was then, post How Stella Got Her Groove Back in his own "about to happen" phase before receding to constant TV series regular gigs. Bale turns 30 with The Machinist (2004) which remains a key moment despite so few people seeing it. It marked Bale permanently in pop culture as an actor that would do anything to his body for a role. And the body became a source of constant fascination... at this point the internet was well versed in the body beautiful from American Psycho so the contrast was impossible to miss. 

Bale as We Now Think of Him: Leading Man of Franchises & Prestige Detours
Batman Begins (2005), Harsh Times (2005), The New World (2005/2006/MaybeMalickisStillEditingIt?)

The Prestige (2006), Rescue Dawn (released in 2007), 3:10 to Yuma (2007)

I'm Not There (2007), The Dark Knight (2008), Terminator Salvation (2009)

Ubiquity, Trouble & Redemption
In this period Bale was everywhere getting his worst press (public meltdowns/private trouble) followed immediately by his best press Oscar redemption: I'm Not There (2007), The Dark Knight (2008), Terminator Salvation (2009), Public Enemies (2009), The Fighter (2010), Flowers of War (2011). 

The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Out of the Furnace (2013) and American Hustle (2013) 

Did memories of Bale-watching rush back at you? Are you a fan? Tell us everything about your long history with Christian Bale in the comments. 

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Reader Comments (19)


December 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMARK

looooooooooove THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY, I always forget he was in that!

December 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

David O Russell saved his life by metaphorically removing the stick from his ass. For awhile Bale was apart of the generation of bad actors who were inspired by Robert De Niro that Vincent Gallo gleefully mocked.

December 6, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful


December 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRalph

Christian Bale, as Laurie on Little Women, was so appealing that he changed the tone of the story. Reading the book, you love Jo, the independent heroine. But when Jo turns down Laurie in the film, it's just inexplicable. In the book Laurie is a good friend and neighbour, young, rich, and loves Jo and her family. When Bale plays him, he's ALSO really smart, artistic, loyal, and full of deep emotion. When Jo turns him down, the insufferable brat Amy snaps him up, and Amy becomes the sensible one. We like Amy better than Jo, which is unthinkable reading the book. Something is seriously wrong with Jo if she can't love and appreciate Laurie/Bale.

December 6, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Having seen fourteen of the posterized films, I honestly had forgotten that he's in three of them. The only thing that I've ever sincerely enjoyed him in is "The Fighter," as he always came off as humorless and self-serious. Years ago when his vocal throngs of supporters consistently begged for Oscar consideration for him in almost anything, I would always think, "Why?"

December 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

I love the cast of Portrait of a Lady SO much - always happy to be reminded.

December 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

And since it's in the air - a second to remember how happy I was about The Fighter dual supporting wins. I love that movie, and Leo and Bale's performances in it, so much - and it was cool that it was the first movie to pull of that combo since another movie I love - Hannah and Her Sisters.
I didn't like Bale as Batman, but I wasn't crazy about the movies in the first place, so that's probably a factor. But most everything else I've seen him in I've enjoyed (I'm Not There and Psycho, especially.)

December 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

I remember first noticing him in All The Little Animals... that was such a great movie and he was so incredibly touching in it!! Been a fan since.

December 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLoyalT

I first saw him and developed a crush in "Treasure Island" with Charlton Heston. After that I sought out "Henry V" and "Empire of the Sun" and was blown away. I must have been 14 or 15 at the time, and I've been a Balehead ever since. I'm so happy that he lived up to his early promise.

December 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

Oh, and I can never understand how Winona would choose Gabriel Byrne over Christian in "Little Women." The scene where he gets his heart broken is incredibly well acted.

December 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

What a great filmography. I have never seen The New World and have to fix that soon.
Also, Harsh Times is amazing.

December 6, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbbats

I've seen eight of these (American Psycho, Batman Begins, The Prestige, 3:10 to Yuma, I'm Not There, The Dark Knight, The Fighter, The Dark Knight Rises) plus a TGWTG review of Equilibrium. (Let's call that 8.25.) Plan to see seven others (Empire of the Sun, Henry V, Velvet Goldmine (directorial completionism), The Machinist, The New World (directorial completionism), Public Enemies (directorial completionism), American Hustle.) Will definitely NOT see: Terminator: Salvation, Out of the Furnace (Crazy Heart is already a bland movie who's existence is only justified by Bridges' performance work and I don't imagine he can make me interested in his visually uninspired Winter's Bone/Fight Club mash-up project.)

December 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

14/36 I guess I'm not a fan or, in other words, he's never the main reason that draws me to the movies.

December 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

31/36 and I need to see those other five (and I feel like some films are missing). PROUD Balehead here.

December 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

He wanted the part of Jack Dawson in "Titanic" REALLY badly. I would like to seem him act opposite Kate Winslet at some point.

December 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTyler

Great actor and I would say one of the best of his generation. I was so happy for him when he won his well deserved Oscar for The Fighter.

I've seen 17 of them and I'm really looking forward to American Hustle. Of the ones I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Rescue Dawn.

December 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSean Troutman

i was scrolling down and for a millisecond i thought "who was he was in batman...?"

i always think of him as art house, not a-list; and he was my best actor of 1987 (as good as he's turned out to be, i don't think he's ever bettered his empire of the sun performance)

December 6, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterpar3182

13/26 and "Empire of the Sun" is easily Spielberg's best unknown film.

December 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

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