Hyams was born in New York City, New York, the son of Ruth Hurok and Barry Hyams, who was a theatrical producer and publicist on Broadway. His maternal grandfather was Sol Hurok, the Russian Jewish impresario. His stepfather was blacklisted conductor Arthur Lief. His sister is casting director Nessa Hyams. His son John Hyams is also a film director. His nephew is Stephen Hyams.
Hyams studied art and music at Hunter College and Syracuse University, before working as a producer/anchorman for WHDH-TV and later WBBM-TV. He has described himself as "one of the very few writer/directors of major films who also photographs his own pictures". During his time with CBS (where he worked from 1964 to 1970), he began to shoot documentary films. Hyams moved to Los Angeles in 1970 where he sold his first screenplay, T.R. Baskin, to Paramount Pictures in 1971.
Hyams worked in television through the early to mid-1970s. His first major film was Capricorn One (1978), a critically acclaimed conspiracy thriller about a faked mission to Mars. This was followed by the less successful Hanover Street (1979) which starred Harrison Ford, a rewrite of Ted Leighton's screenplay for the Steve McQueen film The Hunter (1980), and the science fiction cult classic Outland (1981), which starred Sean Connery in a 'High Noon' scenario set on Io, one of Jupiter's moons. In 1983, he produced, directed, and wrote the screenplay for 2010 (1984), collaborating closely with author Arthur C. Clarke (2010).
Hyams also co-authored with Clarke The Odyssey File: The Making of 2010, published 1985, a collection of their email correspondence which illustrates their fascination with the then pioneering medium, and its use for them to communicate on an almost daily basis while planning and producing the film.
Since the mid-1980s, Hyams has directed/photographed several Hollywood-based movies with varying degrees of commercial and critical success. These movies include: The Star Chamber (1983), Running Scared (1986), The Presidio (1988), Narrow Margin (1990), Stay Tuned (1992), Timecop (1994), and The Relic (1997). The blockbuster End of Days (1999) starring Arnold Schwarzenegger is the highest-grossing film in Hyams' career, grossing over $200 million at the worldwide box-office but met with negative reception.
Hyams followed with The Musketeer (2001) and A Sound of Thunder (2005). The Musketeer (2001), a new version of the famous novel by Alexandre Dumas, was a minor box office success in the United States. However, A Sound of Thunder (2005), a science-fiction movie which faced troubles during its production (including the bankruptcy of the original production company during post-production), performed particularly badly at the box office worldwide and was poorly received by critics.
In addition, Hyams also directed an episode of Steven Spielberg's television show, Amazing Stories. He executive produced the 1980s cult kids movie, The Monster Squad (1987), and co-wrote the screenplay for the Charles Bronson thriller, Telefon (1977).
In 2007, it was reported that he would direct the remake of his own Capricorn One; instead he directed the remake of the 1956 film noir Beyond a Reasonable Doubt starring Michael Douglas, which was released in 2009, was a box office flop, and panned by critics. He also elaborated the cinematography of his son John's effort, Universal Soldier: Regeneration, the third official Universal Soldier sequel starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren.
He directed the thriller Enemies Closer which began filming in late 2012. It marked his fourth (third directorial) collaboration with Jean-Claude Van Damme.
On December 19, 1964, he married George-Ann Spota, with whom he has three children. His son John Hyams is also a film director; Peter performed cinematography duties on his son's film Universal Soldier: Regeneration. His son Chris Hyams is the current president of the job search website Indeed.
Hyams is known for being his own cinematographer on the movies he directs since 1984.
As a reference to his wife's family, there's a minor character named Spota in many of his films, including those which he only wrote (such as 1980's The Hunter); the exceptions being A Sound of Thunder (although there was a market called "Spotas"), End of Days (although there was a bar called "Spotas"), Narrow Margin, Running Scared, 2010, Hanover Street and Peeper.
The following is a list of all movies with Hyams acting as director. Additional credits (as writer, cinematographer and producer) on these movies are indicated. Only domestic box office figures are given. Inflation-adjusted box office results are as of 2014.^ Also producer
^ Also screenwriter
^ Also director of photography
^ Also executive producer