- Decided to become a filmmaker at age 11.
- Worked as an actor and director in the Hamburg Ernest Deutsch Theater before attending Berlin's Film and Television Academy.
- At $12 million, his World War II drama Das Boot (1981) was the most expensive German film ever made at the time. It was money well spent, as the film snagged six Oscar nods, including two for Petersen for directing and best adapted screenplay.
- First English-language film was the 1984 fantasy The NeverEnding Story.
- Best known for helming the blockbusters In the Line of Fire (1993), Air Force One (1997) and The Perfect Storm (2000), for which he was named ShoWest's Director of the Year.
- 1982, Oscar — Best Achievement in Directing: Nominee
- 1982, Oscar — Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay): Nominee
- 1983, BAFTA Film Awards — Best Foreign Language Film: Nominee
- 1982, Directors Guild of America Awards — Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film: Nominee
- Mariah Angela Dow Petersen — Daughter
- Daniel Petersen — Son
- Miriam Camila Dow — Daughter
- Maria Dow — Ex-wife
- Maria Petersen — Wife
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