Filmmaker Wolfgang Petersen, who broke into Hollywood with the Oscar-nominated Das Boot and went on to direct blockbusters like Air Force One and In the Line of Fire, died on Friday of pancreatic cancer. He was 81.
Born on March 14, 1941 in Emden, Germany, Petersen studied at Berlin's Film and Television Academy and began his career directing in his home country on television series like the popular crime drama, Tatort. It was there that Petersen first met the actor Jürgen Prochnow, who became a longtime collaborator.
The filmmaker made his feature debut with 1974's One or the Other of Us, starring Prochnow, but it was their World War II epic, Das Boot (or, The Boat), that garnered Petersen international acclaim. Released in 1981, Das Boot starred Prochnow as a captain of a doomed U-boat during the Battle of the Atlantic. Das Boot was nominated for six Oscars, including two for Petersen: Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.
"So many directors have their one film. It's the one that changed everything for you and the one people will talk about forever," Petersen would later say of Das Boot. "I am lucky enough that I have that film."
The film launched his career in Hollywood, which began with the childhood fantasy film, The NeverEnding Story (1984). The next two decades saw Petersen pivot to studio action films, directing 1993's In the Line of Fire with Clint Eastwood, 1995's Outbreak with Dustin Hoffman, 1997's Air Force One with Harrison Ford, 2000's The Perfect Storm with George Clooney, and 2004's Troy with Brad Pitt, which were all box office hits.
His final film in Hollywood was the 2006 disaster flick Poseidon, an adaptation of Paul Gallico's The Poseidon Adventure starring Kurt Russell, Emmy Rossum and Fergie. The movie received mixed reviews but earned a nomination for Best Visual Effects at the 79th Oscars.
After a 10-year hiatus, the filmmaker returned with the 2016 heist movie, Vier gegen die Bank, his first German-language film since Das Boot. It remains his final film before his death.
Petersen is survived by his wife, Maria Antoinette, their son Daniel, and two grandchildren.
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