Wolfgang Petersen (born 14 March 1941) is a German film director and screenwriter. He was nominated for two Academy Awards for the 1981 World War II submarine warfare film Das Boot (1981). His other films include The NeverEnding Story (1984), Enemy Mine (1985), In the Line of Fire (1993), Outbreak (1995, with Morgan Freeman), Air Force One (1997), The Perfect Storm (2000, with George Clooney and Michael Ironside), Troy (2004, with Brad Pitt), and Poseidon (2006, with Kurt Russell).
Petersen was born on 14 March 1941 in Emden, Prussia. Emden is a small north German community near the Dutch border, where the Ems River flows into the North Sea. From 1953 to 1960, Petersen attended the Gelehrtenschule des Johanneums in Hamburg. In the 1960s he was directing plays at Hamburg's Ernst Deutsch Theater. After studying theater in Berlin and Hamburg, Petersen attended the Film and Television Academy in Berlin (1966–1970). His first film productions were for German television, and it was during his work on the popular German Tatort (Crime Scene) TV series that he first met and worked with the actor Jürgen Prochnow — who would later appear as the U-boat captain in Petersen's famous film Das Boot.
Petersen made his first theatrical feature film in 1974, the psychological thriller One or the Other of Us (German: Einer von uns beiden), based on the novel of the same name by Horst Bosetzky and published anonymously under his pseudonym and starring Jürgen Prochnow. He next directed the 1977 film Die Konsequenz, a b/w 16 mm adaptation of Alexander Ziegler's autobiographical novel of homosexual love. In its time, the film was considered so radical that when first broadcast in Germany, the Bavarian network turned off the transmitters rather than broadcast it. His next feature was the World War II epic Das Boot, released in early 1982. The film chronicles the experiences of a German submarine crew engaged in the "Battle of the Atlantic". Though not an immediate financial success, the film received highly positive reviews and was nominated for six Academy Awards, two of which (for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay) went to Petersen himself; he was also nominated for a BAFTA Award and DGA Award. The film starred Jürgen Prochnow as the U-boat Captain, who became a good example of Peterson's action characters, a man at war and who dares danger and fate at sea.
After The NeverEnding Story (1984), Petersen's first full-blown Hollywood effort (although filmed at the Bavaria Film Studios complex in Germany), Enemy Mine (1985, with Dennis Quaid), was not a critical and box office success. He finally hit his stride in 1993 with the assassination thriller In the Line of Fire. Starring Clint Eastwood as an angst-ridden presidential Secret Service guard, In the Line of Fire gave Petersen the box office clout he needed to direct another suspense thriller, Outbreak (1995), starring Dustin Hoffman. The 1997 Petersen blockbuster, Air Force One, did very well at the box office, while getting a mix of opinions from movie critics. For both Air Force One and Outbreak (but not for The Perfect Storm), Petersen teamed up with the German cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, who has also worked frequently with director Martin Scorsese.
By 1998, Petersen was an established Hollywood director, with the power to both re-release his classic Das Boot in a new director's cut and to helm star-studded action-thrillers. As such, he was originally considered for the first movie in the Harry Potter film series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Petersen pulled out of the running in March 2000. In May 2006, Petersen's $160 million epic film Poseidon, a re-telling of the 1969 Paul Gallico novel (and popular 1972 disaster film) The Poseidon Adventure, was released by Warner Bros., but performed poorly in the US, barely cracking $60 million in box office receipts by early August, although international profits surpassed $121 million. Although hired to direct a film adaptation of Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card that was scheduled for release in 2008, he "moved on" from the project. Then producers of the film hoped for a 2009 release; the film was finally released in 2013 to mixed yet somewhat favorable reviews and co-starred Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley. He is currently developing a live-action adaptation of the 2006 anime film Paprika. He is directing a film adaptation of the science fiction novel Old Man's War.