Hollywood movies

Wolfgang Petersen’s 10 Hollywood Movies, Ranked

Photo via “onnola” (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The world of cinema has just lost one of its most notable filmmakers after the director’s recent death Wolfgang Peterson. For a little over 40 years, his films have made their mark on the big screen in Hollywood.

He began his career as a filmmaker in his native Germany in the early 1960s, making his mark directing television programs and a few short films shown in his native country. His first theatrical feature came out in 1974, a thriller titled, One or the other of us, with a frequent collaborator and the German actor Jürgen Prochnow. Then, in the 1980s, his reputation as a talented filmmaker grew internationally with the critically acclaimed war drama, Das Bootin 1981.

While his past work lives on in his absence, how do all of his Hollywood features stack up against each other? This list features Wolfgang Petersen’s 10 films, ranked down to his absolute best.


This 1991 psychological thriller was written and directed by Petersen and based on a Richard Neely novel of the same name. The film starred Tom Berenger, Greta Scacchi and the late Bob Hoskins in a plot about a man who slowly realizes that the people around him are ultimately not what they seem. The audience follows the main character, played by Bérenger, as he struggles to fill in the gaps in his memory resulting from a recent car accident. The plot had all the usual trimmings of a decent thriller: lies, affairs, near-death experiences, and one or two people eventually buying the proverbial farmhouse. These ingredients didn’t mix well for a product with an appetizing end-credits payoff. In fact, with a critical score of 36%, this film is the lowest-rated Petersen film on Rotten Tomatoes.

enemy mine

This Choice was once a largely forgotten sci-fi action drama from 1985. It starred Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett Jr. as warring lifeforms who must reluctantly put aside their differences in order to survive on an uninhabitable planet. Production began in early 1984, but with British director Richard Loncraine at the helm. Creative differences between Loncraine, the film’s producers, and the film studio prompted a new director, in this case Petersen, to step in to complete the production on schedule. Whoever the director was, it was a sci-fi movie with a plot that audiences were going to understand or not. Unfortunately, it was the latter as the film bombed in the US, despite having slightly better international reception at the time. Since then, the film has grown quite a bit after gaining popularity among the masses.


Petersen directed and co-produced this 2006 American disaster action film starring Kurt Russell, Richard Dreyfuss and Emmy Rossum. Poseidon was the third film based on the 1969 novel, Poseidon’s Adventure, written by American writer Paul Gallico and is a remake of the popular 1972 film of the same title. This movie about a doomed cruise ship looked a whole lot better than the ’70s prequel, naturally, due to the advancement of digital special effects over the years. Because of this, the film was even available on standard and IMAX screens for its theatrical release in 2006. However, no matter how good the finished product was, critics and audiences felt that the script could not prevent the film from sink noticeably at the box office.


The 2004 Sword and Sandals epic starring Brad Pitt, Eric Bana and Orlando Bloom had Petersen behind the camera, only in the director’s chair for this production. The film features a storyline inspired by the classic epic poem, Iliad, by the ancient Greek author Homer. Quite frankly, it was loosely based on events concerning the Trojan War as recounted in Homer’s invaluable work and this is perhaps where the finished product falters, despite its commendable efforts. The events depicted in the original poem take place over several years, 10 to be exact, whereas this film has a timeline condensed into a few weeks. This considerable deviation from the factual track is what ultimately seemed to lose audiences, even though Pitt’s noble portrayal of Achilles helped win. Troy enough at the worldwide box office for an eighth-place finish in 2004.

The Perfect Storm

Petersen directed and co-produced this 2000 biopic that told the story of the fishing boat, Andrea Gail, and the tragic disappearance of its entire crew at sea. This film was adapted from a 1997 creative non-fiction book of the same title by Sebastian Junger. His novel tells Satori and Andrea Gailtwo ships that were the fatal victims of the North Atlantic “perfect storm” that occurred in the fall of 1991. The production co-starred George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg in performances that carried the film to positive attendance at the US box office. The Perfect Storm also earned two Oscar nominations, including one for Best Visual Effects Nod, likely paving the way for the kind of special sights audiences would see years later in 2006. Poseidon.

Air Force One

One of the most popular films of the late 1990s and certainly of Harrison Ford’s legendary career, the 1997s Air Force One was yet another project that Petersen not only directed but also co-produced. Ford starred as the President of the United States in this outdoor action thriller starring Gary Oldman, Glenn Close, William H. Macy and Petersen’s most familiar actor, Jürgen Prochnow in a small supporting role. Although the film’s fictionalized events depict an unlikely chain of events where an American president battles foreign hijackers aboard Air Force One, that doesn’t mean this movie wasn’t entertaining. It’s one of Petersen’s best films without straying too far from realism involving the real plane and its unique passengers. For the past 25 years, this award-nominated film has also been a fan-favorite acting performance for Ford and Oldman.


Just a few years ago Air Force OnePetersen directed and co-produced this award-winning pandemic thriller that featured a fictionalized version of how a contagious and deadly virus could overwhelm not just a local town, but an entire country. Hatching the plot is based on the bestselling 1994 novel, The hot zone, written by Richard Preston. A number of famous faces gave great performances, such as Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman, Donald Sutherland, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Patrick Dempsey. Although the story is entertaining, it has become more relevant given recent global health events. In fact, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the film became the fourth most-streamed film on Netflix in the United States. However, at the time of its theatrical release, the critical response was not too healthy despite favorable box office returns both at home and abroad.

The never-ending story

This fantastic classic from 1984 was certainly special. Despite Das Boot being Petersen’s first American feature film, The never-ending story would be his first production in English. Petersen directed and co-wrote the film, which is based on the 1979 novel of the same title by German writer Michael Ende. The story follows a young boy who, through a magical book, lives the adventure of a warrior fighting to protect the mystical world of Fantasia. Although Petersen reportedly deviated from the original script during production, the film is one of the best-known fantasy films of the modern era. It also became a staple of 1980s pop culture with music that topped several international charts. In fact, it was recently featured on the third season of stranger thingswhich of course takes place in the mid 80s.

In the line of fire

American political action thrillers have definitely been a hit genre during Petersen’s career and this film he directed in 1993 is proof of that. Starring Clint Eastwood, the story follows a former Secret Service agent who tracks down a man attempting to assassinate the President of the United States. Although not based on actual events, Eastwood’s character is written to be the last remaining member of JFK’s detail when he was shot and killed. The film also featured stellar performances from John Malkovich and Rene Russo. After its release, the film recouped more than four times its budget at the box office and earned multiple Oscar and BAFTA nominations.

Das Boot

It was the one that laid the foundations for Wolfgang Petersen’s remarkable directorial career. Also co-writer of the 1981 film, the story is set during World War II, following a German U-boat crew in the “Battle of the Atlantic”. The screenplay is based on Lothar-Günther Buchheim’s 1973 novel of the same name. At the top of the cast were Prochnow, along with fellow German actors Herbert Grönemeyer and Klaus Wennemann.

Believe it or not, plans for this film began in the mid-1970s. It was believed that several American directors were attached to the production at different times. Popular American actors, such as Robert Redford and Paul Newman, reportedly starred in separate film adaptations that ultimately never set sail. Petersen and his German cast and crew proved necessary to give the film the authenticity of a story like this required and deserved. Das Boot earned the most Oscar nominations of any film Petersen made in his career, six in total, including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. The six nominations are still the most nods for a German film.