Bateman started his television career in 1981 with a recurring role in ‘Little House on the Prairie.’ In the series, he played ‘James Cooper,’ an orphaned boy who, along with his sister, is adopted by the Ingalls family.
From 1982 to 1984, he played Rick Schroder's scheming school friend in the sitcom ‘Silver Spoons.’ His good looks and sense of humor made him popular among teenage girls.
He appeared in a 1984 episode titled ‘Lost Knight’ from the series ‘Knight Rider.’ Three years later, he appeared alongside Burt Reynolds in the inaugural week of the game show ‘Win, Lose or Draw.’
Between 1995 and 2001, he had major roles on four series—‘Simon,’ ‘Chicago Sons,’ ‘George and Leo,’ and ‘Some of My Best Friends’—none of which lasted longer than a season.
In 2002, he played the frisky sibling of Thomas Jane's character in ‘The Sweetest Thing,’ a romantic comedy film directed by Roger Kumble. The film starred Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate, and Selma Blair.
After tasting success with the television series ‘Arrested Development,’ he landed small roles in movies, such as ‘Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story,’ ‘Starsky and Hutch,’ ‘The Break-Up,’ and ‘Smokin' Aces.’
In ‘The Kingdom,’ a 2007 action film, he played ‘Special Agent Adam Leavitt.’ The film also starred Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, and Ashraf Barhom.
He had a supporting role in the 2007 comedy drama ‘Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium’ where he played ‘Henry Weston,’ a straight-laced and rigid accountant. Dustin Hoffman and Natalie Portman also starred in the movie.
For his performance in ‘Juno,’ a 2007 comedy-drama film, Bateman was nominated for a ‘Critics' Choice Award.’
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In ‘Hancock,’ a 2008 superhero film starring Will Smith, Charlize Theron, and Eddie Marsan, he had a significant role as ‘Ray Embrey,’ a corporate public relations consultant whose life is saved by Hancock.
He lent his voice for the short-lived 2009 ‘Fox’ animated comedy series ‘Sit Down, Shut Up.’ He voiced ‘Larry Littlejunk,’ a gym teacher and only staff member that can teach.
‘Extract,’ a 2009 comedy film directed by Mike Judge, starred Bateman alongside Mila Kunis, Kristen Wiig, Dustin Milligan, J. K. Simmons, and Ben Affleck. The film was a moderate success.
‘Couples Retreat,’ a 2009 romantic comedy film, saw him sharing screen-space with Vince Vaughn and Favreau. The movie was filmed mostly in Bora Bora, an exotic resort in French Polynesia.
In 2010, he starred alongside Jennifer Aniston in ‘The Switch,’ a romantic comedy. Even though it received mixed to lukewarm reviews from critics, the movie proved to be a moderate financial success.
In 2011, he played the role of ‘Special Agent Zoil’ in the comedy film ‘Paul.’ He also starred in ‘Horrible Bosses’ and in the fantasy comedy ‘The Change-Up.’ The latter received criticism for its crude humor.
He starred in ‘Disconnect,’ a 2012 thriller film directed by Henry Alex. The film explores how people experience the negative side of modern communication technology.
‘Identity Thief,’ a 2013 crime comedy film directed by Seth Gordon, starred Bateman alongside Melissa McCarthy. The film narrates the story of a man (Bateman) whose identity is stolen by a woman (McCarthy).
‘Bad Words,’ a black comedy film, marked his directorial debut. The film had its world premiere as part of the ‘Special Presentation’ section at the ‘Toronto International Film Festival’ in 2013.
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He reprised his role as ‘Nick Hendricks’ in the movie ‘Horrible Bosses 2’ in 2014.
In 2016, Bateman voiced ‘Nick Wilde,’ a cunning fox, in the animated film ‘Zootopia.’
He was cast in the 2018 black comedy film ‘Game Night’ alongside Rachel McAdams.