Lanthimos was born in Pangrati, Athens. He studied directing for film and television at the Hellenic Cinema and Television School Stavrakos (HCTSS) in Athens.
Through the 1990s he directed a series of videos for Greek dance-theater companies. Since 1995 he has directed a large number of TV commercials, in addition to music videos, short films and experimental theater plays. He was also a member of the creative team which designed the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.
His feature film career started with the mainstream film My Best Friend where he shared directing credits with Lakis Lazopoulos and was followed by the experimental film Kinetta which premiered at the 2005 Toronto Film Festival. His third feature film Dogtooth won the Prix Un Certain Regard at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards. In 2010, he acted and co-produced Attenberg a Greek drama film directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari. His fourth feature film Alps (2011) won the Osella Award for Best Screenplay at the 68th Venice International Film Festival.
The script for his fifth film The Lobster was awarded with the ARTE International Award as Best CineMart Project for 2013 at the 42nd International Film Festival Rotterdam. The film was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and won the Jury Prize. During the 75th Venice Film Festival, he presented his latest work The Favourite (2018), and won the Grand Jury Prize. The film tied for the most nominations at 91st Academy Awards, with ten, including Best Picture and Best Director for Lanthimos.