Friday, January 14, 2011

William Atherton: Greatest Adult Jerk of the Eighties

On my old blog I once wrote about William Zabka being the greatest teenage jerk/bully of the eighties. Well, yesterday I was reading the AV Club's New Cult Canon entry on Real Genius and I realized I had forgotten about William Zabka's adult counterpart in jerky villainy: none other than William Atherton. You might not know the name but you definitely know who he is even if you don't recognize the name. (On a sidenote (I love sidenotes) off the top of my head Paul Gleason, who played Principal Vernon in The Breakfast Club could have had a very good run at this title too with that movie, Trading Places, and a little Christmas movie called Die Hard, which also costars one William Atherton. Close,  very very close).

Here is the trilogy (quadrilogy?) of William Atherton's yuppie douchebaggery:

Ghostbusters (1984),  Walter Peck

The EPA official who ended up unleashing all the ghosts onto Manhattan. Stupid government bureaucracy.

Real Genius (1985), Prof. Jerry Hathaway
Tried to use students and their research to gain large government contracts. Got his house filled with popcorn in the end.

Die Hard (1988), Richard Thornburg
Dick reporter.

Same to somewhat diminishing returns in Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990)
Except on an airplane.

Bonus: the creators of Lost knew him to be so good at playing a dick that they had him guest spot as the principal to Michael Emerson's Ben in the sideways universe in the last season. He excelled here at what he did best.

Just for fun: the runner-up: Paul Gleason.

Sadly, Paul Gleason passed away in 2006. You should check out his because, of course, he plays well known jerks in these movies below, but he was on a ton of stuff, pretty much every popular television show of the eighties. He was even in the TV movie Ewoks: The Battle For Endor. Pretty amazing.

But we are here to talk about his classic movie jerkdom:

Trading Places (1983),  Clarence Beeks
His comeuppance in the end is simply amazing.

The Breakfast Club (1985), Principal Richard Vernon
You mess with the bull, you get the horns.

Die Hard, Deputy Chief Dwayne T. Robinson
"Looks like we're gonna need some more F.B.I. guys."

Eh, we can call it a tie, I guess.


1 comment:

  1. Oh man, I didn't know that Paul Gleason died. I feel like when I found out John Denver died, about two months after the airplane crash happened. Sometimes, I'm so out of it.

    But yeah, I think it's fair to call this one a tie. These guys should get special Oscars to recognize their perennial ability to play a huge douche. And you also nailed the best line either of them had with Gleason's pronouncement about needing more FBI guys. Classic.