Breaking into the entertainment business in 1960 as assistant director for Hamburg's Ernest Deutsch Theatre, German filmmaker Wolfgang Petersen went on to Berlin's German Film and Television Academy. He kicked off his film directorial career in television, winning several awards in the process; his 1976 TV movie For Your Love Only served as the debut for actress Nastassja Kinski. Petersen's 1977 theatrical feature The Consequence, a discreetly handled study of male homosexuality which he both wrote and directed, won him praise on the international scene. In 1981, Petersen helmed Das Boot, a vastly popular wartime drama set on a German submarine; the film earned Petersen two Oscar nominations, one for directing, the other for best screenplay. Petersen made his English-language debut with the 1984 children's fantasy The Neverending Story and had his big stateside breakthrough with the blockbuster Clint Eastwood assassination thriller In the Line of Fire (1993). With his status as an A-list Hollywood director well established, Petersen next directed Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo in 1995's Outbreak, a film that successfully played on the public's fear of the unseen threat inherent in communicable diseases like ebola. While Outbreak was only a modest hit, Petersen scored very big just two years later when he helmed the Die Hard-on-the-President's-plane actioner Air Force One. Starring Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman, the film would go on to gross more than 300 million dollars worldwide. Anyone who thought Air Force One may have been a fluke for the filmmaker need look no further than Petersen's next film, the true high-seas adventure The Perfect Storm (2000). After back-to-back films that each passed the 300-million-dollar mark worldwide, Petersen had no problem securing a 185-million-dollar budget for 2004's Troy, a historical epic starring Brad Pitt. Based on Homer's The Illiad, the film opened stateside with an impressive 46-million-dollar weekend.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Decided he wanted to be a filmmaker at the age of 11.
- Worked as an actor and director in the Hamburg Ernest Deutsch Theater before attending Berlin's Film and Television Academy.
- With a budget of about $12 million, his World War II drama Das Boot was the most expensive German film ever made at the time of its production.
- First English-language film was the 1984 fantasy The NeverEnding Story.
- Named ShoWest's Director of the Year in 2001, after helming the action blockbuster The Perfect Storm.