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5 Great (Mostly) Forgotten Roles of Christian Bale

A closer look at a few forgotten roles by this acclaimed actor.

Christian Bale is an Academy Ward-winning actor who is perhaps best known for his gritty role as Bruce Wayne/Batman in the Christopher Nolan-directed reboot of the franchise, though he has a number of other significant parts in a diverse set of titles in the past decade and more that have earned him great acclaim.

With shocking body transformations, Bale has made a name for himself as one of the most dedicated, intense, and visible actors in modern cinema, committed to the craft and exploring characters that often challenge the viewer to consider more than the superficial. He’s been acting since a child in the mid-1980s and while his name is synonymous with a number of popular and influential movies, you might not remember his roles in others. Here’s 5 great (mostly) forgotten roles of Christian Bale.

Henry V (1989)

Regarded as one of the best Shakespearean adaptations ever made, this Kenneth Branagh vehicle followed the exploits of the British king as he marched through France on a campaign to conquer and unite. A remarkable production that features large-scale battles and easily-accessible language, the film is a real thrill and rousing adventure, Shakespeare fan or not.

Christian Bale
Henry V, 1989 © BBC Films

Bale has a small role, and honestly, is barely visible if you’re not looking carefully, and it’s not till the end when you realize his significance. He is only a child here and plays Robin, a luggage-boy for the king’s army, his and the others boy’s fate a spark of great motivation for the King. After one battle is over, Henry himself gives the boy a moment of great dignity.

Swing Kids (1993)

Taking place in Germany as the Nazis take power, a group of young people, particular three boys who have been close friends for life, secretly enjoy banned Swing music, yet are soon forced to make some troubling choices as the climate changes and war grips the nation and world. The movie was critically-panned and was a box office flop, the story a contrived plot that hinged on the trendy re-interest in the music and a number of standard emotionally manipulative moments, but has some solid performances.

Christian Bale
Swing Kids, 1993 © Buena Vista Pictures

Bale plays Thomas (co-staring with Branagh again), best friend to Peter (Robert Sean Leonard) and Arvid (Frank Whaley), though unlike them, comes to embrace the Nazi ideology. It divides the trio and creates some great moments between the actors, even if the movie as a whole lets them down. Bale is terrific as a naive youngster in the grip of trying times, in constant imbalance over what is right and wrong. Bale does conflict best, which is why his Batman is so beloved.

Equilibrium (2002)

Speaking of suppressed rights of expression, in this sci-fi thriller, the future is ruled by laws that forbid emotional and creative outlets so the population take drugs to inhibit them, all in the hopes of instilling obedience and stability in a world decimated by the aftermath of a great war. Those that break the laws, called “sense offenders,” are executed. Another flop, this is unfairly criticized.

Christian Bale
Equilibrium, 2002 © Miramax Films

Bale plays John Preston, a high-ranking official in new government’s Grammaton Clerics, specially-trained militant types who raid the land in search of contraband. When he accidentally is prevented from taking his injections, he begins to experience life as a real human being and now he must find a way to stay alive and fight against the very power that put him in place. Too often dismissed as a copy-paste of others in the genre, the movie is actually better than remembered and features standout performances from Bale and Emily Watson. Check it out.

The New World (2005)

Filmmaker Terrance Malick is not in any sense of the word, conventional, and as such, his movies are an ethereal experience … if you can get through them. The New World is a retelling of the exploration of the American continent by the British in Virginia, meeting and shaping the lives of Pocahontas and her people. As expected, it is a visually-driven film with little dialogue and plenty of ambiguity, yet remains a powerful cinematic treat, even if the history might not all be right.

Christian Bale
The New World, 2005 © New Line Cinema

Bale plays John Rolfe (in his second film on the subject after voicing a part in Disney’s Pocahontas in 1995), a British settler in Jamestown with whom Pocahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher) develops a relationship and eventually marries. Bale would soon come to work with Malick again, but here he gets his start and while the production is the real triumph, is very good in an emotionally-driven role. Watch it for the visuals, but pay attention of the performances.

Rescue Dawn (2006)

On the subject of visionary filmmakers, Werner Herzog has certainly earned his place in the lot, a prolific director of fiction, biographies and documentaries. With Rescue Dawn, he tells the story of Dieter Dengler, an American pilot shot down during the Vietnam War, taken prisoner, and tortured, before making a dangerous escape. It’s a fascinating and troubling film that pulls no punches, even if it ends on a less than impactful note.

Christian Bale
Rescue Dawn, 2006 © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Bale is Dengler, a highly-charismatic and well-liked member of the VA-145 fighter squadron who is captured by the Pathet Lao and taken to a camp in the forests of Laos where he meets a few other American captives, suffering extreme conditions and torture, some having endured it for years. He eventually escapes with another, a man named Duane Martin (Steve Zahn) and now must survive the jungles and hostile villagers if he going to make it home. Bale is at his best here, proving through his physical and emotional commitment to the part why he is one the best working in movies today. It’s a great role.