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Air Force One director Wolfgang Petersen dies aged 81

Wolfgang Petersen, the director who made it big with Das Boot before making a range of thriller and action movies, has passed away aged 81

Air Force One

Wolfgang Petersen, the action movie director who made the move from Germany to Hollywood after the international breakout success of 1981’s war movie Das Boot, has passed away at the age of 81.

Das Boot was an epic WWII submarine thriller that gained six Oscar nominations – a rare feat for a film not in the English language. Petersen’s first foray into Hollywood was the fantasy movie The NeverEnding Story – which traumatised a generation of children with the death of the horse Artax in the swamps of sadness. But it did manage to delight with the luck dragon Falkor.

Petersen moved into thriller movies in the 1990s, with In the Line of Fire (1993) starring Clint Eastwood and Air Force One (1997) starring Harrison Ford. In 1995 he directed Outbreak, which went viral (sorry) when the Covid-19 pandemic first started to spread. In the 2000s, Petersen directed two boat-based disaster movies – The Perfect Storm (2000) starring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg, and Poseidon (2006) starring Kurt Russell and Richard Dreyfuss. He also directed the historical epic Troy (2004) starring Brad Pitt and Diane Kruger.

Outbreak has an all-star ensemble cast including Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman, and Donald Sutherland. It’s about the spread of a deadly virus called Motaba, and people high up in the military planning to use it as a biological weapon. Along with Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 movie Contagion, it was heavily referenced in early 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic started to spread internationally.

Petersen was particularly proud of The Perfect Storm, which was a hard sell in Hollywood, because it’s based on a true story in which all of the main characters die. However, it went on to gross almost $330 million.

Check out our guide to the best action movies.