Wolfgang Petersen, 'Das Boot,' 'Air Force One,' 'The Perfect Storm' Director, Dies at 81
Wolfgang Petersen, the acclaimed German director of such films as "Das Boot" and the Hollywood blockbusters "The Perfect Storm" and "Air Force One," died Friday at his Brentwood, California, home. He was 81.
His publicist confirmed to THR that the case of death was pancreatic cancer.
Petersen had enjoyed a resurgence of interest in his work during COVID-19 when his 1995 film "Outbreak" trended.
Born in Germany on March 14, 1941, he honed his skills as a director in the theater ahead of attending Berlin's Film and Television Academy.
He enjoyed early success on German television before his 1974 feature-film debut, the thriller "One or the Other of Us." His 1977 gay-themed TV film "Die Konsequenz" was so controversial it was banned in Bavaria.
Petersen impressed critics with his "Das Boot" (1982), a claustrophobic film about a German submarine crew during WWII. In spite of presenting a sympathetic portrait of Nazi soldiers, it was perceived as intended — an anti-war film whose message was that "in war, young people die for horrible reasons." It went on to receive six Oscar nominations.
Pivoting, his first English-language film was "The NeverEnding Story" (1984), a trippy fantasy film aimed at kids, followed by 1985's "Enemy Mine," starring Louis Gossett Jr. and Dennis Quaid. The latter did not hint at his previous artistry, nor did 1991's Hitchcock pastiche "Shattered," but he hit his stride with the taut, Clint Eastwood-starring thriller "In the Line of Fire," a big hit in 1993.
Working with Eastwood was as close as Petersen got to making a western, though his films often felt like westerns masquerading as other genres.
Following "Outbreak," he directed one of his biggest hits, the Harrison Ford actioner "Air Force One" (1997), about a U.S. president heroically rescuing the passengers on the world's most famous plane when a group of terrorists attacks.
"The Perfect Storm," from Sebastian Junger's 1997 book, was another smash in 2000, and his personal favorite. A film about fishermen who perish in monster storm was a risk even before its $150-million price tag, but it — like his best American films — once again connected with a wide array of filmgoers.
His final works were "Troy" (2004), starring Brad Pitt, Eric Bana and Orlando Bloom, which received mixed reviews, leading to a 2007 director's cut; the 2006 remake "Poseidon"; and the German-language comedy "Four Against the Bank" (2016).
Petersen is survived by his second wife, Maria, to whom he'd been wed for more than 40 years, his son from his first marriage, his daughter-in-law and two grandchildren.