The 23-man shortlist for the prestigious world player of the year award was announced early on Tuesday morning, with the winner - voted for by coaches, captains and journalists - to be unveiled on 13 January in Zurich.
Bale became the world's most expensive player when he joined Real Madrid from Tottenham for 100m euros (£85.3m) in September after a 26-goal haul for Spurs.
But he faces tough competition for the prize from his Madrid team-mate Ronaldo - winner in 2008 - and Barcelona forward Messi, who has won the award for the last four years.
Five Premier League players - Manchester United striker Robin van Persie, Manchester City's Yaya Toure, controversial Liverpool frontman Luis Suarez, Chelsea winger Eden Hazard and Arsenal's recent addition Mesut Ozil - make the cut - but there are no English players included.
Franck Ribery, who was named UEFA's best player in Europe for the 2012-13 season after helping Bayern Munich win the Champions League, Bundesliga and German Cup, is another prominent name on the shortlist.
Ribery is joined by club-mates Philipp Lahm, Thomas Muller, Manuel Neuer, Arjen Robben and Bastian Schweinsteiger while Barcelona also have Xavi, Andres Iniesta and summer signing Neymar among the candidates.
Paris St Germain trio Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani and Thiago Silva have made the shortlist while fellow Ligue 1 big-spenders Monaco have a contender of their own in Radamel Falcao, acquired from Atletico Madrid in the close season.
Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who retired at the end of last season, headlines a 10-man coach of the year shortlist along with Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Spain boss Vicente del Bosque.
Ballon d'Or shortlist: Gareth Bale (Real Madrid/Wales), Edinson Cavani (Paris St Germain/Uruguay), Radamel Falcao (Monaco/Colombia), Eden Hazard (Chelsea/Belgium), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Paris St Germain/Sweden), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona/Spain), Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich/Germany), Robert Lewandowski (Borussia Dortmund/Poland), Lionel Messi (Barcelona/Argentina), Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich/Germany), Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich/Germany), Neymar (Barcelona/Brazil), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal/Germany), Andrea Pirlo (Juventus/Italy), Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich/France), Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich/Netherlands), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid/Portugal), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich/Germany), Luis Suarez (Liverpool/Uruguay), Thiago Silva (Paris St Germain/Brazil), Yaya Toure (Manchester City/Ivory Coast), Robin van Persie (Manchester United/Netherlands), Xavi (Barcelona/Spain).
Coach of the year shortlist: Carlo Ancelotti (Real Madrid/ex-Paris St Germain), Rafael Benitez (Napoli/ex-Chelsea), Antonio Conte (Juventus), Vicente Del Bosque (Spain), Sir Alex Ferguson (ex-Manchester United), Jupp Heynckes (ex-Bayern Munich), Jurgen Klopp (Borussia Dortmund), Jose Mourinho (Chelsea/ex-Real Madrid), Luiz Felipe Scolari (Brazil), Arsene Wenger (Arsenal).