In the eight years between the Batman & Robin flop and Christopher Nolan‘s Batman Begins reboot, a long list of notables, we’re talking Joshua Jackson, Eion Bailey, Hugh Dancy, Billy Crudup, Cillian Murphy, Henry Cavill and Jake Gyllenhaal, auditioned for the role, but Nolan found his guy in Bale.
Treating his rich character arc across the 2005 to 2012 trilogy with as much deference as his other Oscar nominated work, the actor’s gravelly-voiced, complex, grittier turn as the Dark Knight paved the way for the more realistic superhero fare that would follow. (Frankly, holding his own against Heath Ledger‘s genius Joker might be enough to earn the top spot.)
“We knew we had to reinvent it,” Bale told the Toronto Sun in 2019. “I literally had people laugh at me when I told them we were doing a new kind of Batman. I think that the reason it worked was first and foremost Chris’ take on it.” Perhaps, most importantly, he knew when to hang up the cowl. Feeling satisfied with the opportunity to complete the full trio of films, he and Nolan balked when talk of a fourth cropped up: “I said, ‘No. We have to stick to Chris’ dream, which was always to, hopefully, do a trilogy. Let’s not stretch too far and become overindulgent and go for a fourth.'”