German filmmaker Wolfgang Petersen, whose résumé is positively loaded with iconic films (Das Boot and The NeverEnding Story, just to name two) has died following a battle with pancreatic cancer. That news was confirmed by Deadline, which noted that Petersen “died peacefully” alongside Maria Antoinette, his wife of 50 years. Petersen was 81.
Petersen was born in Germany in 1941 and he started working in German television in the ‘60s. His first theatrical film was 1974’s One Or The Other, where he met actor Jürgen Prochnow, who would later star in Petersen’s breakout film: 1981’s Das Boot, possibly the most highly regarded German film of all time. Following the crew of a German U-boat in World War II, the iconic “war is hell” film was nominated for six Academy Awards (including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for Petersen himself).
The international success of Das Boot made Petersen an in-demand filmmaker in Hollywood, and he followed it up a few years later with similarly iconic fantasy film The NeverEnding Story, based on the book of the same name by German author Michael Ende. From there, Petersen mainly became known in Hollywood for directing big-budget, high-stakes, star-driven action thrillers like Enemy Mine, In The Line Of Fire, Outbreak, and Air Force One (with that one possibly being the definitive example of that very narrow genre).
In 2000, Petersen returned to making boat movies with The Perfect Storm, and while it wasn’t necessarily a huge hit with critics, the film was pretty big at the time. His final two American films would follow a similar path: Troy and Poseidon, with both getting mixed reviews but making good money (though the latter had such a big budget that it actually lost money anyway). His final film, the heist comedy Vier Gegen Die Bank, was also his first German movie since Das Boot.
Petersen is survived by his wife, son, and two grandchildren.