Christian Bale, Gen-Z Heartthrob

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Kerry Hayes/Lions Gate/Kobal/Shutterstock, Getty Images

You know the scene in American Psycho in which murdery investment banker Patrick Bateman, played by a young Christian Bale, strides stoically into his office while Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine” blares through his headphones? It’s been playing on an endless loop on TikTok for months.

While there’s nothing new to TikTok breathing life into pop-culture relics — take, for example, the resurgence of Kate Bush’s 1985 hit “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” after the track’s needle drop on Stranger Things  — the app’s meme-ing of the 2000 thriller isn’t actually about the film or the soundtrack. It’s about Gen Z being horny for Christian Bale.

Just take a scroll through Instagram and you’ll find there’s no shortage of fan accounts dedicated to the 49-year-old Oscar winner run by “Baleheads.” And then there are the thirsty tweets and TikTok fan cams set to moody Lana Del Rey songs that dominate #BaleTok. The hashtag #patrickbateman has racked up more than 6.3 billion views.


Christian Bale is just yk…. #christianbale

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You might be wondering, in a world of boyishly wholesome Harry Styleses and Timothée Chalamets, how did Bale and his portrayal of a narcissistic serial killer manage to steal the hearts of young women, most of whom were not even alive to see to Bale’s rise to stardom?

“It’s his face,” said Laura, 20, laughing. “His stare. I also think it’s the fact that he’s quite mysterious. Everybody likes a mysterious man. It’s like, ‘Ooh, they might change for me.’” “It’s the edginess of it,” agrees Wiktoria, 21.
“I think a lot of the appeal is the fact he’s a generally conventionally attractive guy in a suit,” says Clementine, 14. “He plays a very confident character who’s very assertive. And while his actual character is not at all the kind of guy that you’d want to talk to, there’s this confidence in the way he carries himself.”

Yes, Bale fanatics are very much aware that they are lusting after an evil character — even if they don’t endorse his behavior. But Bale represents more than just edgy eye candy. Thanks to the “daddy” memes and movie edits, American Psycho is serving as the gateway drug to the larger Christian Bale canon. Beyond his Bateman (and of course, the other big “B,” a.k.a. Batman) character, Gen Z is being organically introduced to his earlier works like Newsies, Little Women (the Laurie lust is real), and The Portrait of a Lady. It doesn’t hurt that many of these flicks easily play into the current ’90s-and-early-aughts-nostalgia cycle on TikTok.

“A lot of people are going back to the ’90s or early 2000s to create Pinterest boards and movie edits on TikTok,” Wiktoria, who studies acting, says. “They see an edit of a character and they watch a movie because of that.” She started her “Christian Bale thing,” she says, during lockdown. She estimates she’s watched 10 to 12 of his films. “I even watched Newsies and Knight of Cups, which is not a popular movie.” Her favorites, for the record: American Hustle (“very camp”), The Dark Knight (“a classic”), and Little Women (“I watched it with Christian Bale after watching [the 2019 version] with Timmy [Chalamet] to see the difference”).

Citing his role as a gay British journalist during the ’80s in Velvet Goldmine, Clementine says the actor’s versatility is especially compelling to her. “You can tell he’s not afraid to do roles that kind of demasculinize him,” she says. “He seems very mature and confident in who he is and what his beliefs are. I feel that definitely plays a part, even subconsciously.”

Isabella, 22, posits that part of Bale’s — not Bateman’s, just to clarify — mass appeal can be attributed to the fact that he’s “just very unproblematic.” “I don’t think there’s anything on record with him having suspicious behavior,” she says. “He’s a good guy to attach yourself to, especially if you’re a teenager getting interested in movies, older films, or maybe stuff you’ve seen siblings watch.”

When asked about other Hollywood crushes, many teen girls mentioned Bale’s name alongside Hollywood hotties Heath Ledger and Cillian Murphy, who have also made the viral rounds. Like Bale, they have sexy accents and exceptional bone structure. And unlike other celebrities who continue to be romanticized despite public knowledge of their abuse, Bale, Ledger, and Murphy are actors with historically clean track records. It makes it safe — and even fun — to crush on them, especially if they’re known for playing toxic characters that contrast so dramatically with their “good guy” reputations.

Besides, “it’s just gonna be slightly salacious to like a serial-killer figure,” points out Isabella.

It’s also slightly salacious to dress up as one, too. Some Gen-Zers are taking their crush to the next level by ironically copping Bateman’s style, whether as part of their wardrobe or on a lark for a costume. Wiktoria recalls last Halloween when she noticed multiple people dressed up as Bale’s notorious character. “I started counting people who were dressed as his character because there were so many people, girls included,” she says. “I don’t remember what the final count was, but I’m sure it was like eight to ten people that I saw dressed as Patrick Bateman.”

In the context of the film, Patrick Bateman is not a heartthrob — he’s a monster. But TikTok disconnects Patrick Bateman from the context of the film and he becomes a hot guy in a suit. He’s anyone you want him to be.

“I think throughout his different roles, everyone can relate to certain aspects of them,” says Laura. “Even if it’s American Psycho.”

Christian Bale, Gen-Z Heartthrob