The second cousin (once removed) of Spanish conquerer Hernan Cortes, Francisco Pizarro always lived in the shadow of his famed relative. After Cortes conquered the mighty Aztec Empire, Pizarro went in search of something else to murder and pillage, just so he could say he did it too. Luckily, there was another empire just down the road that was conveniently unconquered. Pizarro was kind of like the Darth Maul to Cortes' Vader -- not as well-known, but his lightsaber had two blades.
He traded in the bitchin' head tats for a beard.
By the time the Spanish conquest of the Incan empire was complete, he was now not only a self-made governor, but was known throughout the continent as Pizarro the Cruel, Pizarro the Torturer, Pizarro the Despised, Pizarro the Unholy and, somewhat less creatively, Pizarro the White Person.
Also, Pizarro the Fabulous!
But Pizarro's quest for glory came second to his real passion -- the cities of the Inca were paved with gold. So Pizarro's approach to thwarting the Inca wasn't so much a straightforward military victory as it was a campy, Dr. Evil-style extortion racket.
After a friendly meeting with the Incan emperor, Atahualpa, went sour, Pizarro did the rational thing and kidnapped the emperor for ransom. The price he demanded? "A room full of gold." Seriously. While inflation rates have since changed, it's about as close as anyone has ever come to holding an entire country hostage for "one hundred billion dollars."
Because Atahualpa wasn't as attached to his gold as he was to his life, he not only supplied the ransom but included a smaller room filled "twice over" with silver, just as a bonus. It's probably safe to assume that Pizarro hadn't counted on it being this easy, because he just went ahead and killed Atahualpa anyway, by strangling him in public.
Illustrated here. Probably.
Oh, and as if to rub it into every single one of you from beyond the grave, Pizarro remains to this day one of the most successful self-made men in history. Living in a room full of gold tends to earn one a reputation.
And, occasionally, nephews.
3Sir Basil Zaharoff
If Otto Skorzeny was a Bond villain, then Basil Zaharoff was Destro, the wealthy and psychotic arms dealer from the G.I. Joe universe. Zaharoff was known as the "Merchant of Death," the "Mystery Man of Europe" and eventually "Sir," due to his being such an evil genius that the British had no choice but to knight him.
Sir Basil Zaharoff, standing in front of a huge explosion.
Zaharoff started his career of villainy modestly, as an arsonist for the Constantinople firefighters. Yes, you read that correctly. The corrupt Turkish fire department actually hired people to start fires in rich people's houses so firefighters could go in and steal all their shit. It was fun as far as evil enterprises go, but Zaharoff had grander aspirations.
He later became a huge-time international arms dealer for Swedish munitions company Thorsten Nordenfelt, but with a twist: Zaharoff figured that the best way to make a living selling weapons was to first create demand by starting a bunch of wars, so that's exactly what he did.
And Zaharoff didn't even have the Coppola name to back him up.
After selling the world's first submarine to the Greeks, Zaharoff went running to the Turkish government to tell them what he'd done. Understandably frightened, the Turks bought two submarines of their own. Realizing he had a good thing going, Zaharoff then went to Russia and helpfully informed them that Greece and Turkey were stocking up on submarines, and furthermore, he'd heard them saying that Russians were a bunch of jerks. So Russia bought some subs. The icing on the cake was that much of the product that Zaharoff was shilling was faulty, overpriced garbage. His submarines fell apart as soon as they tried to fire a torpedo.
It's pretty much impossible to pin even a ballpark body count on Zaharoff (after all, he wasn't pulling the trigger). To give you an idea of how much hardware he put into the world, by the summer of 1918, Zaharoff's profits were so huge that he distributed "at least" 50 million francs for the Allied war effort (and incidentally secured ongoing demand for his wares). The British rewarded his "service" to the war by granting him a knighthood, which he modestly accepted.
"For outstanding achievement in the field of 'selling machine guns to people in funny hats'."
Despite Zaharoff's efforts to prolong it indefinitely, World War I did eventually end, and he spent the remainder of his years earning even more unbelievable profits as the manager of a popular casino in Monte Carlo. An evil casino? We're guessing almost certainly yes.