Oscar Directors: Petersen, Wolfgang–Background, Career, Awards, Filmography (Strangers in Paradise; Foreigners in Hollywood)

September 24, 2020

Wolfgang Petersen Career Summation

Occupational Inheritance:

Nationality: German

Social Class:



Formal Education:

Training: TV

First Film: psychological thriller, One or the Other of Us, 1974; age 33

Breakthrough: Das Boot, 1982; age 41

First Oscar Nomination: Das Boot, 1982; age 41

Gap between First Film and First Nom: 8 years

Other Oscars:

Other Oscar Nominations:

Oscar Awards:

Nominations Span:

Genre (specialties):

Popular: He hit his stride in 1993 with the thriller In the Line of Fire; aged 52


Last Film: Poseidon, 2006, aged 65


Career Length: 1974-2016; 32 years; hiatus of 10 years, 2006-2016

Career Output: small, 11 features in 40 years

Comeback: After 10-hiatus, Petersen returned in 2016 as director of heist comedy Vier gegen die Bank, his first German film since Das Boot in 1981.



Death: NA

Wolfgang Petersen (March 14, 1941) is a German film director, producer and screenwriter.

He was nominated for two Oscar Awards for the 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), Air Force One (1997), The Perfect Storm (2000), Troy (2004), and Poseidon (2006).

Petersen was born on March 14, 1941 in Emden, Germany.

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 TV, 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 Das Boot.

Petersen made his first theatrical feature film in 1974, the psychological thriller “One or the Other of Us,” based on the novel Einer von uns beiden by Horst Bosetzky and published anonymously under his pseudonym and starring Jürgen Prochnow. He next directed the 1977 film Die Konsequenz, a black/white 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; 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 Petersen’s action characters, a man at war and who dares danger and fate at sea.

After The NeverEnding Story (1984), Petersen’s first English-language film, he directed Enemy Mine (1985), which was not a critical nor box office success.

He 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, with generally positive critical reviews from movie critics. For both Air Force One and Outbreak, Petersen teamed up with the German cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, who has also worked frequently with director 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 the 2000s, Petersen continued to direct two summer blockbusters, the films The Perfect Storm (2000) and Troy (2004). The success of the former helped his Radiant Productions company to signed a deal with Warner Bros.

Petersen’s $160 million epic film Poseidon, a re-telling of the 1969 Paul Gallico novel The Poseidon Adventure (previously adapted for the 1972 disaster film), was released by Warner in May 2006. The film performed poorly in the US, barely cracking $60 million in domestic box office receipts by early August, although international sales surpassed $121 million.

Although hired to direct the film adaptation of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card that was scheduled for release in 2008, he later “moved on” from the project. His potential projects include a live-action adaptation of the 2006 anime film Paprika and a film adaptation of the science fiction novel Old Man’s War.

After a ten-year-hiatus, Petersen returned in 2016 as director of the heist comedy Vier gegen die Bank, his first German-language film since Das Boot in 1981.


1968 Die rote Fahne Yes Short film
1969 Ich nicht Yes Yes Short film
1969 Der Eine, der Andere Yes Yes Short film
1971 Ich werde dich töten, Wolf Yes Yes

1974 One or the Other of Us Yes
1981 Das Boot Yes Yes
1984 The NeverEnding Story Yes Yes
1985 Enemy Mine Yes
1991 Shattered Yes Yes Yes
1993 In the Line of Fire Yes
1995 Outbreak Yes Yes
1997 Air Force One Yes Yes
2000 The Perfect Storm Yes
2004 Troy Yes Yes

2006 Poseidon Yes Yes

2016 Vier gegen die Bank Yes Yes


producer Notes
1965 Stadt auf Stelzen Yes Television film
1971-1977 Tatort Yes Yes
1972 Anna und Totò Yes Television film
1973 Smog Yes Television film
1973 Van der Valk und die Reichen Yes Television film
1974 Aufs Kreuz gelegt Yes Television film
1975 Die Stadt im Tal Yes Television film
1975 Stellenweise Glatteis Yes Television film
1976 Hans im Glück Yes Television film
1976 Vier gegen die Bank Yes Television film
1977 Planübung Yes Yes Television film
1977 Die Konsequenz Yes Yes Television film
1978 Schwarz und weiß wie Tage und Nächte Yes Television film
2001-2003 The Agency Yes

Critical reception

1981 Das Boot 98%
1984 The NeverEnding Story 80%
1985 Enemy Mine 61%
1991 Shattered 31%
1993 In the Line of Fire 96%
1995 Outbreak 60%
1997 Air Force One 76%
2000 The Perfect Storm 47%
2004 Troy 54%
2006 Poseidon 33%