I'm not putting Daniel Plainview on this list.
Daniel Day-Lewis' performance was incredible in There Will Be Blood and Plainview is a horrible asshole. But he's also the protagonist of that movie. It's a character study about a bad character but he's not the villain because there really is no hero. He's not a villain. It's such an important movie and role, I feel it was necessary to at least explain why it's not here.
So while I'm not including that role, here are the top movie villains of the 21st Century:
5. Stephen Warren (played by Samuel L. Jackson in Django Unchained)
Leonardo DiCaprio is going to get his name on the poster but his character Calvin Candie was just a stupid racist asshole. The real evil genius was Stephen Warren. The movie also knows this as Warren is the last bad guy Django needs to defeat. Jackson is so brilliant as Warren balancing feigning respect for Candie with constant fear and self-hatred. He's basically playing the worst middle manager ever.
Between his work here and as another villain Ordell Robbie in Jackie Brown, it's crazy that he never got another Academy Award nomination since Pulp Fiction came out in 1994. This might be a blog for another day but is there any actor's films you'd miss more if they vanished than his? Goodfellas, Jurassic Park, his Tarentino work and then you have the Marvel stuff.
4. Anton Chigurh (played by Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men)
This is the least emotional guy on this list and maybe the most ruthless. There's a lot of Robert Patrick's T-1000 from Terminator 2 in Anton Chigurh. Both are relentless killing machines but unlike the actual android, Chigurh is impossible to stop. The cruelest kill for Chigurh is of course, Carla Jean at the end. It's here we see that Chigurh uses "fate" and "destiny" as excuses for killing people and when she boxes him into not being able to make excuses, he still can't stop.
Bardem won the Oscar for playing Chigurh and has been nominated a total of four times. He's very good in everything I've seen him in, even bizarre movies like Mother! or lousy ones like Being The Ricardos. At only 53, I expect he'll get at least a couple more nominations before he is done acting.
3. Hans Landa (played by Christoph Waltz in Inglorious Basterds)
The second Tarantino movie on the list but that shouldn't be much of a surprise. He's the best writer working today at writing the bad guy. I think Waltz is very good in Django and deserved the Oscar (2012 was a weak movie year) but he was great in Basterds. The opening scene in the dairy farm is right there with Saving Private Ryan as the best opening scenes in movie history. Waltz has the best introduction to American audiences of any actor I've ever seen.
Landa's super power is how clever he is. He's manipulative, brilliant and only loyal to himself. You can imagine a free Landa in America trying to excuse his crimes or association with being a Nazi but that's all a lie. Linda enjoyed everything he did. You can see it his eyes especially when he's playing cat and mouse with the dairy farmer.
2. The Joker (played by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight)
Another Oscar winner, Ledger is the best Joker ever and that's saying an awful lot. He's also the most evil and chaotic incarnation on film. Jack Nicholson's Joker was a ruthless gangster but his backstory of a shitty boss screwing him over makes him at least a tiny bit sympathetic. Joaquin Phoenix's version was another Joker origin story and you see him fall apart in front of you. With Ledger's performance, it's pure chaos. For that same reason, he's also the scariest version.
This is such a unique performance. Everything about this Joker seems…off. The weird accent and even the way Ledger has him move is odd. It seems cliche (and probably is) to say Ledger transformed into the Joker but watching the movie, I completely forgot it was Heath Ledger acting. Contrast that with Jared Leto when he was the Joker and it was impossible to forget you were watching Leto.
1. Bill The Butcher (played by Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs Of New York)
Bill The Butcher isn't the smartest or strongest villain on this list but he's the meanest. This is a great movie that didn't get the proper respect when it came out. It was nominated for 10 Oscars (including Day-Lewis for Best Actor) but never won. I think people were too critical about Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz and other critics said this is too long but I am never bored watching it. The visuals are stunning and I find the story riveting. It's a great revenge story. Most of the movies on this list are. It lends itself to great villains. For all of its strengths including Martin Scorsese, the greatest is Daniel Day-Lewis.
Wild with emotion, it's his belief that he's the good guy in this story that really sets Bill apart. The Joker and Anton Chigurh don't really care if they are the good guy. Or at least Chigurh didn't care until Carly Jean puts him in a mental box. Hans Landa and Stephen Warren are much more concerned with self than being on the right side of anything. Bill feels he needs to fight for something. Stephen also leans back on tradition and the way things are but for Bill, it's an obsession and not an excuse to be an asshole. He really means what he says.
When you mix that passion with charisma and my favorite Daniel Day-Lewis performance, this is tough to beat. Putting this list together, I left off Jeremy Renner in The Town. He would have been sixth on this list anyway but was he really the villain? He was a awful person but I don't think he was necessarily the bad guy of that particular story. I just wanted to mention him because he is so great in that movie. That top five stands head and shoulders above the rest for me though. These aren't just the greatest villains of the century but among the very best performances.