Wolfgang Petersen, ‘Air Force One’ and ‘The Perfect Storm’ Director, Dead at 81

by Suzanne Halliburton

Wolfgang Petersen, who directed blockbusters like “Air Force One” and “The Perfect Storm” has died. His production company confirmed his death, Tuesday. He was 81.

Wolfgang Petersen, who was born in Emden, Germany, first rose to fame with the World War II movie “Das Boot.” He earned two Academy Award nominations for the film, which told the story of a German U-boat during the Battle of the Atlantic. It was a groundbreaking accomplishment from the early 1980s.

Then, when he arrived in Hollywood, Wolfgang Petersen directed his first English-language film, the whimsical “The NeverEnding Story.”

One film critic wrote: “Wolfgang Petersen’s stunning English-language debut, THE NEVERENDING STORY was a magical vision made tangible through his wondrous imagination. I saw it for the first time as a kid on TV, years after its release, and it pains me that I have yet to see it on the big screen. RIP.”

Wolfgang Petersen Responsible for Some of Biggest 1990s-Era Blockbusters

Wolfgang Petersen probably was best known for the action movies he made in the 1990s. He once said that his greatest achievement after “Das Boot” was “In the Line of Fire” in 1993. The movie starred Clint Eastwood who played a secret service agent still scarred from the guilt of not being able to protect John F Kennedy three decades before. John Malkovich played the killer who was trying to murder the president. Petersen figured out a way to digitally insert images of Eastman from his 1960s movies into actual footage of the JFK assassination.

“It’s my greatest experience after ‘Das Boot,’ ” Wolfgang Petersen told Variety. “Working with Clint was a great experience.”

Fans of Wolfgang Petersen and that movie were posting their favorite lines to honor Petersen’s memory. And because it’s an Eastwood movie, the lines were salty.

Petersen’s ‘Air Force One’ Set Record for R-Rated Movie Opening

Bilge Ebiri, a film critic for Vulture, tweeted: “No matter how good people think he was, Wolfgang Petersen was *better.* IN THE LINE OF FIRE is an eternal masterpiece. (Watch it again.) DAS BOOT revolutionized Hollywood action for a generation. ENEMY MINE, AIR FORCE ONE, TROY… All amazing movies.”

In 1997, Petersen returned to the Secret Service/presidential theme with the thriller “Air Force One.” It starred Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Glenn Close, William H. Macy and Dean Stockwell. In the movie, a group of terrorists hijack Air Force One. Ford plays the president, with Close as his VP. Oldman is a Russian terrorist.

Wolfgang Petersen, Harrison Ford and Glenn Close from the Air Force One screening. (Ursula Düren via Getty Images)

When “Air Force One” opened, it knocked off “Men in Black” from the top spot at the domestic box office. It also broke a record for the most prolific opening weekend, ever, for an R-rated movie. Interview with a Vampire, starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, owned the previous record.

Wolfgang Petersen even did a medical disaster movie, “Outbreak.” It was all fiction, with an Ebola virus somehow getting from Africa to a small town in California. The movie starred Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman, Donald Sutherland, Patrick Dempsey, Kevin Spacey and Cuba Gooding Jr.

His movies featured other big names, from George Clooney to Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom. He retired from Hollywood after “Poseidon,” the 2006 remake of the “The Poseidon Adventure.”