Bale boasts a unique actor's resume. For every Batman film (of the three, he was best in "TDKR"), there's a startling character portrait; "American Psycho," "The Machinist," "The Fighter." He's worked with a wide range of top directors, from Steven Spielberg, Werner Herzog and Terrence Malick to David Ayer, Michael Mann and McG. He can do song and dance or sexy, psycho, lawbreaker or lawmaker. Yes, he's even lost his cool on set. Method acting is hard work, after all.
Below, we revisit Bale's career beginnings, highs and lows.
GREATEST ASSET: A super-actor with impossible good looks and a dark side.
THE START: Welsh-born Bale was just twelve when he starred in Steven Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun," after appearing in a few commercials and performing on the London stage with Rowan Atkinson in "The Nerd." His performance in "Empire" earned him excellent reviews, and served as "early evidence of the good actor [he] would become." After a small role in Kenneth Branagh's masterful Shakespeare adaptation of "Henry V" (1989), Bale starred in Kenny Ortega's 1992 musical "Newsies," which--despite being critically condemned for failing to revive the movie musical--is still a cult favorite for a select group of true Bale enthusiasts, and spawned a Broadway hit. The hearts that Bale didn't win with "Newsies" were convinced with his portrayal of Laurie in Gillian Armstrong's adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women," which was a winner in 1994.
After Lisa Cholodenko's "Laurel Canyon" (2002) and Rob Bowman's "Reign of Fire" (2002), Bale returned to disturbing character portraits with Brad Anderson's psychological thriller, "The Machinist," (2004) which was our first look at Bale sans body fat and muscle. His performance in "The Machinist" is even more impressive considering he would debut as the Batman to end all other Batmans in "Batman Begins" only a year later. The film not only spawned the uber-successful trilogy that concluded after "The Dark Knight" and "The Dark Knight Rises," it also cemented Bale as a certifiable action star/badass as well as a great method thespian. Werner Herzog's "Rescue Dawn," David Ayer's "Harsh Times" and Nolan's "The Prestige" all followed in 2006, with Bale alternating between heroic and villainous roles.
MISFIRES: We can blame "Terminator Salvation" on McG, but truth is, it wasn't Bale's best work either. It's still his highest-grossing film after the Batman trilogy, with "The Fighter," "Public Enemies" and "The Prestige" following behind. 2011's "The Flowers of War," despite being China's most expensive film, failed both at the box office and as a foreign Oscar hopeful--and landed Bale in hot water with the Chinese government during his publicity tour. He is unlikely to be allowed back anytime soon.
CAREER ADVICE: Since Bale has maintained a successful chameleon career outside of the Batman franchise, he has little to worry about. He still lacks a Best Actor Oscar; earning it is up to him. Reteaming with Malick and joining Scott Cooper (director of Bale's upcoming "Dust to Dust") aren't bad places to start.