Christian Bale’s best movie isn’t The Dark Knight

Tom Percival
Christian Bale on a field of red with the characters he played in different movies in the background.

It’s Christian Bale’s 50th birthday, so we’ve gone through the great actors’ filmography to pick out the best Christian Bale movies for you to watch while you celebrate.

Bale’s as an actor who’s hard to pin down. During his four-decade-long career, he’s given some truly remarkable dramatic performances, made us cry with laughter, popped up in the MCU, and even found time to don Batman’s iconic cape and cowl now and again.

Still, we think our curated list of the five best Christian Bale movies, one for each decade he’s been alive, captures the full breadth of his work. Although we have to apologize to Newsies fans (all 10 of you), we couldn’t find space for that film on the list.

5. Ford V Ferrari

Matt Damon and Christian Bale hang out of a car in Ford V Ferrari
There’s a point at 7,000 RPM… where everything fades

A well-oiled engine of entertainment, Ford v Ferrari is a propulsive and gripping sports movie about pride and friendship. While the story centers around Carroll Shelby’s (Matt Damon) attempts to build a car and team capable of beating Enzo Ferrari’s racing team at Le Mans ’66, director James Mangold clearly understood that the beating heart of this captivating drama lay in the relationship between Carroll and Ken Miles (Christian Bale).

Carroll has an easy confidence while Miles is only really comfortable behind the wheel, yet despite their differences, both men find common ground in their determination to win. Damon and Bale play wonderfully off each other, and there’s a real sense of camaraderie between the two actors. That strong central relationship combined with Mangold’s (and his cinematographer Phedon Papamichael’s) incredible eye for a visual during the key racing scenes allowed Ford V Ferrari to do the impossible and make film fans care about racing.

4. The Prestige

Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman talk in The Prestige.
Do you want to see a magic trick?

The Prestige is arguably Christopher Nolan’s greatest movie magic trick (aside from getting Tenet greenlit). At first glance, it appears to be an entertaining, if rather pedestrian, thriller about two rival stage magicians, Borden (Bale) and Angiers (Hugh Jackman), as they compete to become London’s top stage act. Then, with deft directorial sleight of hand, Nolan somehow transmogrifies the film in front of your eyes into one of the most mesmerizing and mind-bending films ever made.

Of course, as magical as Nolan’s directorial skills are, he’d be nothing without his leading men, Bale and Jackman. The entire film hangs on the rivalry of the toxic obsession of these two men and their games of one-upmanship.

While Jackman does great work as the scene-stealing suave showman Angiers, it’s Bale who has the more challenging role. For reasons we won’t go into here (we don’t want to spoil the trick), his performance is deliberately more restrained and subtle, but when the curtain’s finally lifted on his secret, you’ll be picking your jaw up off the floor.

3. The Dark Knight

Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) stands in front of the Bat-Suit.
I am vengeance!

The second-best Batman movie ever made, The Dark Knight is a nail-biting superhero film that has more in common with Heat and The Godfather than its contemporaries in the cape and cowl genre. As an action movie, it’s an incredible example of what can be achieved when a director (Christopher Nolan again) and cinematographer (Wally Pfister) are in total lockstep. Even now, more than a decade after its release, the Tumbler chase scene remains one of the most exciting set pieces ever put to celluloid.

Still, The Dark Knight’s greatest strength is its character work. Now, a lot of digital ink’s been spilled since the film’s release, expounding on the late great Heath Ledger’s spellbinding performance as the Joker. Yet Bale, who’s hamstrung slightly by playing the straight man to Ledger’s unhinged villain, gives what may be his best Batman performance in this film.

We know people like to clown on his hammy Batman growl, but Bale does spectacularly emotive and nuanced work in The Dark Knight, both in and out of the cowl. Throughout the film, there’s this tension between Batman’s mission and Bruce’s growing desire to be happy, and it’s Bale who sells that internal conflict. It’s just a shame The Dark Knight Rises went and spoiled it…

2. The Fighter

Mark Whalberg and Christian bale walk arm in arm in The Fighter
Who used to be the pride of Lowell? 

Often described as one of the best boxing movies ever made, The Fighter tells the true story of boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his fractious relationship with crack-addict older brother Dicky Eklund (Bale). While Micky’s battle to win the welterweight title from his rival makes for an exhilarating and exciting enough story – even if it is a little predictable – what elevates The Fighter is the superb work of its ensemble cast. Everyone from Whalberg to Melissa Leo is doing some of their finest ever work in this film, and yet the star who burns the brightest in this film is Bale.

Bale is phenomenal in his brashest and boldest performance ever. Throughout The Fighter, he twitches and pulses with either withdrawal or anger (you’re never really sure, to be honest). It’s genuinely astounding, even before you consider the slightly alarming physical transformation Bale underwent for the film.

1. American Psycho

Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) wields an axe in American Psycho
Do you like Huey Lewis and The News, Paul?

Darker than a black wall in a teenage goth’s bedroom, American Psycho is a twisted tale of murder and materialism set against the backdrop of ’80s Yuppie culture. Bale plays Patrick Bateman, the titular psycho, a corporate something (the film never specifies what he does for a living) as he goes about his life, admiring business cards, returning videotapes, and murdering anyone who looks at him sideways.

It sounds pretty macabre on paper, but director Mary Harron does a great job of balancing the gruesome scenes of violence with a charmingly irreverent tone. There’s just something so funny about seeing Bale boogying around his apartment that you almost forget he’s just bludgeoned someone to death with an axe… almost.

Again, though, Bale is the real reason American Psycho works as well as it does. It’s hard to imagine another actor flitting between funny and friendly to cold and dangerous, an essential part of Bateman’s character, with the same alarming ease as Bale. What’s really astounding, though, is the way Bale’s also able to keep the character surprisingly sympathetic, most notably at the end, where you’re left feeling slightly sad for Bateman and his mad, mad world.

About The Author

Tom Percival is the Features Editor at Dexerto. He has a BSc in Geography and an MA in Broadcast Journalism. Tom's been in the media for nearly a decade and he's worked at UNILAD, The Digital Fix and the BBC. Nothing excites Tom more than a good hot take except maybe Spider-Man and Game of Thrones. You can email him here: