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For Your Consideration...William Atherton

by: Colin True

In the episode of THE ROCK FIGHT called Breaking Up With Running I describe a scene from the 1985 classic film REAL GENIUS and then offer a rundown of the role that actor William Atherton played in my childhood.  Here is what I said on that episode:

"Quick aside, guys, William Atherton, who played Jerry Hathaway in [REAL GENIUS] deserves more love.  From 1984 to 1990 he played Walter Peck in GHOSTBUSTERS, Hathaway in REAL GENIUS and Richard Thornburg in two DIE HARD movies.  Is there a better run of someone playing insufferable & sniveling characters than that?  I don’t think so. And he’s so good at it, does that mean that’s the way he is in real life?  Is there still time to work on an honorary Oscar for him?  This man was as much a part of my childhood as He-Man, The Autobots and Twisted Sister. He deserves recognition."

Atherton perfectly played the trifecta of movie assholery in those three roles and while GHOSTBUSTERS and DIE HARD are much more discussed movies than REAL GENIUS I like to think it was that Val Kilmer lead classic that allowed Atherton to peak with his true talent as an actor: being the most smarmy and unlikeable yet charismatic dickhead you’ve ever had to deal with.

I'm going to go ahead and call Rock Fight the hub of the Atherton Hive and to celebrate the man and his characters that we love to hate, for your consideration, we present the following clips.

First up is the scene where the William Atherton we'll all come to love absolutely bursts onto the scene as Walter Peck in GHOSTBUSTERS.

This scene is incredible. Not only do we get to meet an all time movie villain (do you think that perhaps Peck and Gozer the Gozerian were in cahoots? Like maybe Gozer was working with Peck behind the scenes to release all of the ghosts?) Think of what it takes to face off against Bill Murray in an absolute smarmfest. An incredible debut from our guy as Walter Peck.

A year later we got to meet Jerry Hathaway in REAL GENIUS.

Look, these are three of my all time favorite movies. But if I'm being honest, REAL GENIUS means the most to me.

Part of that are the memories of watching this flick with my older brother and part of that is a little on the hipster side of things because it's not as well known as the other two in the Atherton Hall of Fame. I love REAL GENIUS so much. And Jerry Hathaway is the perfect foil to Val Kilmer's Chris Knight. This is where Atherton takes the Walter Peck vibe to a new level. Just an all time performance.

Finally we get to see one of these dickhead characters truly get their comeuppance at the end of DIE HARD.

Earlier in the movie we see Dick Thornburg threaten Holly Gennero/McClane's nanny to be able to get to hers and John McClane's kids. A move that is not only reprehensible but also is seen on TV by Hans Gruber allowing the villain to piece together the relationship between John and Holly and put Holly at even greater risk. So allowing Holly to deliver a right hook to this douchebags face was a great inclusion in the denouement of the greatest action movie ever.

If you check out William Atherton's IMDB page you'll see that he continues to work in movies and TV even in his late 70's including an upcoming appearance in the forthcoming sequel...GHOSTBUSTERS: FROZEN EMPIRE where apparently he'll be reprising his role as Walter Peck.

So looks like the Atherton Hive will get at least one more turn with Atherton doing his thing. We'll be tracking it here on


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