Then came Bale, who scored twice in the Champions League final - along with Real Madrid teammate and fellow scorer, Karim Benzema.
The Croatian had a stellar year, leading his country to an unlikely World Cup final while also winning a third-consecutive Champions League title.
Real Madrid midfielder Isco, Liverpool's Brazilian Roberto Firmino and Uruguay's rugged defender Diego Godin of Atletico Madrid also got the nod.
The victor will be announced in Paris on 3 December with a women's victor awarded for the first time.
France internationals Amandine Henry, Amel Majri and Wendie Renard are joined on the list by Germany's Dzsenifer Marozsan, England's Lucy Bronze, Ada Hegerberg of Norway and Japan defender Saki Kumagai.
Thirty players will be announced on the shortlist for the 2018 award.
PSG's Mbappe appears a dead certainty for the newly-introduced Kopa Trophy, which rewards the best players under 21, and is voted on by previous Ballon d'Or winners. The two Ballon d'Or Awards will be decided by an global jury of journalists, with AS editor Alfredo Relaño again casting Spain's vote this year.
The victor will be announced on December 3.