For much of his Hollywood career, German filmmaker Wolfgang Petersen was a maestro of cascading water and pulverized metal. He could conjure disasters both natural and man-made, whether he was scaring a pre-COVID world silly with the pandemic thriller “Outbreak” (1995), pitting a supremely presidential Harrison Ford against terrorists at 36,000 feet in “Air Force One” (1997) or tossing George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg into the path of a nearly 100-foot wave in “The Perfect Storm” (2000).
The ocean was in many ways his natural habitat, as borne out by “Poseidon,” his proficient 2006 remake of “The Poseidon Adventure,” and especially “Das Boot,” the 1981 submarine-set nail biter that earned six Academy Award nominations, including a directing nomination for Petersen, who died Friday at age 81.
A tour de force of clammy, claustrophobic tension, “Das Boot” became a career-making smash for a director with only one prior theatrical feature, the German drama “One or the Other of Us” (1974), under his belt. Like the Hollywood pictures that would follow, including the Clint Eastwood thriller “In the Line of Fire” (1993), “Das Boot” revealed Petersen’s gift for intensely physical filmmaking, his ability to control the audience’s breathing using sound and image, light and shadow, silence and music — a talent that feels increasingly rare in an ever more CG-reliant, streaming-focused Hollywood.
Sweaty-palmed action set pieces may have made Petersen’s reputation, but his follow-up to “Das Boot” — and his first English-language feature — was a rare foray into family-friendly filmmaking called “The NeverEnding Story” (1984). Seen today, this beamingly earnest, spectacularly trippy fantasy certainly has its flaws, especially when compared with Michael Ende’s magnificent source novel. It also has racing snails, rock-biting giants, whooshing luckdragons and one endlessly nostalgia-tickling earworm of a title theme. For a lot of us, it was the first Petersen movie we ever saw, and it may still be first in our hearts.
Below, The Times has compiled a list of some of Petersen's most memorable movies and where you can see them.
Das Boot (1981)
The NeverEnding Story (1984)
Enemy Mine (1985)
In the Line of Fire (1993)
Air Force One (1997)
The Perfect Storm (2000)
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.