Christian Bale is widely considered to be one of the best actors to take on the role of Batman. His portrayal of Bruce Wayne/Batman covered three films – better known as the Dark Knight trilogy – which has brought in collectively $2.4 billion at the box office. The first film of this trilogy, Batman Begins, will be arriving on Netflix in the United States on March 1, 2021.
After the critical and box-office failure of Batman & Robin, Warner Bros. pulling the plug on any follow-up to that movie. But years later, Warner Bros. hired the relatively new director Christopher Nolan to resurrect Batman. At the time, Nolan has only made three films: the extremely low-budget Following, 2000’s Memento – which earned Nolan his first Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay – and 2002’s Insomnia. Nolan, along with co-writer David Goyer, wrote a Batman origin story unlike any that had seen before. Nolan was aiming for a darker, more grounded Batman, completely different from what fans were used to seeing in the movies. Nolan and Goyer were inspired by several Batman comic book sources for their origin story, including The Man Who Falls, Batman: The Long Halloween, Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, and Batman: Dark Victory.
When Christian Bale was chosen for the role of Batman – like Nolan – he was a rising star. Bale made his feature film debut in the 1987 Steven Spielberg movie Empire of the Sun at the age of 13, and from a young age, continued to appear in movies like Newsies, 1994’s Little Women, and Velvet Underground. But Bale’s breakthrough role came in 2000’s American Psycho. Later that same year, he made another memorable performance as Walter Wade, Jr. in the Samuel L. Jackson remake of Shaft. In the years between 2000 and Batman Begins, Bale would continuously make a name for himself in movies like Laurel Canyon, Reign of Fire, Equilibrium, and The Machinist.
When Nolan finally said yes to Christian Bale as the new Batman, the actor needed to put back on the weight he lost for his role in The Machinist in order to get him in physical shape to play Batman. Bale had lost 62 pounds to play the skeleton-thin lead of The Machinist, but his goal was to add 100 pounds of muscle. Bale actually went 30 pounds over that, which meant he then had to lose that 30 before filming began.
In Nolan and Goyer’s film, fans get the familiar origin story where a young Bruce Wayne sees his parents murdered. But what fans also get is Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne traveling across the globe, learning how to fight and instill fear, and eventually ending up in a Bhutan prison, where he meets Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson). Wayne is recruited by Ducard to join the League of Shadows, run by the mysterious Ra’s al Ghul. After his training is complete, Bruce learns that Ra’s al Ghul intends to destroy Gotham City. Bruce rejects the League and what they stand for, burning down their temple and killing Ra’s al Ghul in the process.
Bruce returns home to Gothan in order to run Wayne Entreprises, but he also intends to fight the city’s crime that led to his parent’s murder. By day, Bruce plays the part of billionaire playboy, while at night he begins to develop his Batman persona. He turns the caves under Wayne Manor into his workshop. He uses Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), a friend and employee of his father, to help develop his Batsuit and Batmobile, and he leans on his butler Alfred (Michael Caine) for emotional support. Katie Holmes plays Rachel Dawes, Bruce’s love interest and a new character to the Batman mythos, while Cillian Murphy shows up as the villain Scarecrow, and Tom Wilkinson plays local mobster Carmine Falcone.
Of the three movies in the Dark Knight trilogy, Batman Begins made the least amount of money. Batman Begins opened at number one in the domestic box-office, where it stayed for its first two weeks in release. Batman Begins ended up grossing $371 million worldwide. Not only did it revive the Batman franchise for a new generation, but it also made Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan an exciting star and director to watch.
After playing Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, Bale would take on the role two more times, with 2008’s The Dark Knight and 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises. Since taking on Batman in 2005, Bale has become one of the most sought-after actors in Hollywood. He’s been nominated at the Academy Awards four times, winning with his first nomination in Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for 2010’s The Fighter. Next, Christian Bale will be teaming up with his The Fighter and American Hustle director David O. Russell for a new film, and he will also return to the world of superhero films, playing Gorr the God Butcher in 2022’s Thor: Love and Thunder.
Christian Bale’s take on Batman revitalized the character and helped legitimize superhero films in the 2000s. While we’re now in a period with multiple actors playing multiple takes on Batman, there are still few Batman films better than Bale’s original take on the character in Batman Begins, which hits Netflix in the United States on March 1st.