His big break came in 1941 when Orson Welles hired him to edit Citizen Kane for which Wise received his first Oscar nomination. He transitioned into directing with The Curse of the Cat People and soon established himself as a master of many genres including science fiction, musicals, horror, and drama. In the 1950s he would direct the classics The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Desert Rats, and I Want to Live. Wise is best known for the much-loved musicals, West Side Story and The Sound of Music, as well as the popular films, The Haunting, The Andromeda Strain, and Star Trek: the Motion Picture.
Wise received numerous awards and recognition for his work in film. In addition to his Oscar nomination for Citizen Kane, he was nominated for Best Director for I Want to Live and shared the Oscar for Best Director with Jerome Robbins for West Side Story. Wise received the DGA Award for directing West Side Story and The Sound of Music. In addition, The Sand Pebbles received a Best Picture Oscar nomination and West Side Story received the Best Picture Academy Award. For the multi-Oscar-winning The Sound of Music, Wise received an Academy Award for Best Directing. His work on Executive Suite, Somebody Up There Likes Me, I Want To Live, and The Sand Pebbles was also recognized with DGA Awards nominations for outstanding directing. In 1967, the Academy honored Wise with the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award.
Wise served as President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 1971 to 1975, and President of the Directors Guild of America from 1985 to 1988. For his service to the DGA, he was honored with the Robert B. Aldrich Award, the Lifetime Achievement Award, The Honorary Life Member Award, and the Presidents Award.