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.
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.
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?
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.