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NEW YORK — With “The Perfect Storm” having sailed smoothly to a $327 million worldwide gross, Warner Bros. has signed that film’s director, Wolfgang Petersen, to a multiyear, first-look deal to direct more films at the studio. Deal was made by Lorenzo di Bonaventura, president of worldwide production.

Petersen’s deal at Columbia recently expired. Col pact was forged after that studio distributed the helmer’s Beacon Communications hit “Air Force One.”

Petersen will move his Radiant Prods. shingle over to the WB lot, and he has promoted senior VP Samuel Dickerman to prexy.

Deal, Petersen said, came out of the faith the studio and di Bonaventura showed in him during one of the most logistically challenging film shoots ever.

Though WB often partners on big-ticket films, the studio was the sole financier on “Storm,” which — though Petersen kept it on budget — clocked in at about $137 million. It was also considered the underdog going into the Fourth of July weekend, when it was up against the Mel Gibson starrer “The Patriot.” It bested that film and emerged with the most successful three-day opening in studio history, and the third best July Fourth weekend of any film.

It also bolstered the bankability of leads George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg. “The Perfect Storm” was Warner’s top-grossing hit of 2000.

“I had such a good experience with the studio that when they tried to get me there, there wasn’t much reluctance on my part,” Petersen said. “I’d done ‘Outbreak’ there and thought it would be the place to spend the next couple of years.

“I give the studio and Lorenzo a lot of credit,” he added. “He stood by me, was supportive all the way, even though we faced a big budget for a film with an ending where everybody dies. It’s nice when a marriage comes out of a big hit.”

Water-logged

Petersen, who first caught Hollywood’s attention with another water-based project in “Das Boot,” has been on a roll of late, with his last four films earning a combined $1 billion worldwide, each grossing more than the previous. “Perfect Storm” became the biggest, edging the $314 million grossed by the Harrison Ford starrer “Air Force One.” The two prior pics were “Outbreak” and “In the Line of Fire.”

The director hasn’t decided on a next helming effort, and most assuredly won’t make a film before the expiration of the SAG deal this summer.

“I was offered things, but these days there is so much at stake with each film, I do not want to feel rushed,” he said. “With the new deal in place, I’ll set out to find my next movie. Now that I’m dry again, we’ll see what Warner Bros. has, put our heads together and hopefully find something soon.”

Up for ‘Endurance’ test

With screenwriter Dan Gilroy through National Geographic Films, Petersen’s also developed “Endurance,” the story of South Pole explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, in hopes that Mel Gibson will star.

He said that he’s lost none of his enthusiasm for the project despite the big-budget miniseries that cable’s A&E and Channel Four Intl. have set with director Charles Sturridge and Kenneth Branagh (Daily Variety, Jan. 11). “It’ll only heighten interest in the story,” he said.

New Radiant prexy Dickerman, the Stanford grad who was an investment banker who turned to producing after graduating from USC’s Peter Stark Producing Program, previously worked on the development of such films as “Mighty Joe Young,” “Instinct” and “Bicentennial Man,” as well as “The Perfect Storm.” He also worked for the Samuel Goldwyn Co. on such pics as “The Madness of King George.”