Davis was born on the south side of Chicago, Illinois, and has directed several films using Chicago as a backdrop. He is the son of actor Nathan Davis and Metta Davis and the brother of musician Richard "Richie" Peter Davis (co-founder of the cover band Chicago Catz) and Jo Ellen Friedman. Davis used his actor father Nathan Davis to fill out many character roles throughout the years, notably as the grandfather to Shia LaBeouf's character in the Disney film, Holes.
After attending the Harand Camp of the Theater Arts summer camp program and Bowen High School. Davis went on to study journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he was issued a degree in journalism in 1968. It was not long before his interest in civil rights and anti-war issues converged with his growing interest in film-making. Davis was mentored by acclaimed cinematographer Haskell Wexler with whom he worked on Medium Cool and began his film career as a cameraman on blaxploitation films like The Hit Man, Cool Breeze and The Slams in the 1970s.
Wexler and Davis recently reunited to discuss the film before a screening at the Pollock Theater on the campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara.
In October 2006, he told a London press conference that he intends to make a film fusing the novels Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes and Tom Jones by Henry Fielding.
Davis is best known as a big budget Hollywood filmmaker. His film The Fugitive starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones received seven Academy Award nominations including Best Picture in 1993. Jones received a nomination and won for best supporting actor that year, which is his only Oscar win to date. The academy ultimately gave the 1993 best picture award to Schindler's List. That year Davis was also honored with a Golden Globe nomination for Best Director by the Hollywood Foreign Press. The Directors Guild of America nominated him for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Theatrical Direction.
Roger Ebert reviewed The Fugitive in 1993, he begins his review with, "Andrew Davis' The Fugitive is one of the best entertainments of the year, a tense, taut and expert thriller that becomes something more than that, an allegory about an innocent man in a world prepared to crush him." ...with regards to Davis Ebert made this observation, "transcends genre and shows an ability to marry action and artistry that deserves comparison with Hitchcock, David Lean, and Carol Reed. He paints with bold, visual strokes."
His first feature film as a director was the 1978 semi-biographical picture Stony Island. The film had a theatrical release in 1978 and was eventually released on DVD on April 24, 2012. Stony Island centered on young musicians forming a band in their impoverished south side neighborhood. The film stars veteran musicians like saxophone player Gene Barge and soul singer Ronnie Barron as well as relative newcomers like Dennis Franz and Edward "Stony" Robinson. Roger Ebert describes the movie in a 2012 article, "The energy, I gather, came in large part from the performers themselves. The movie is more or less based on fact; the director and co-writer, Andy Davis, has a brother who was the last white kid on the block down on Stony Island, and actually was involved in a band something like the one in the movie."
In 1981 Davis directed a slasher film titled The Final Terror, which was released in 1983. The film was produced by Joe Roth and features several early performances from stars like Rachel Ward, Daryl Hannah, and Joe Pantoliano, among others.
In 1986 Davis was hired as the director of The Running Man, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, but eventually got replaced by Paul Michael Glaser one week into filming.
Davis co-wrote a screenplay for a Harry Belafonte project Beat Street which was a rap musical featuring breakdancing and the street music culture of early eighties New York City. Mike Medavoy and Orion Pictures tapped Davis to direct the Chuck Norris vehicle, Code of Silence. Off that success in 1988 Davis developed for Warner Brothers a film titled Above the Law. Davis co-wrote, produced and directed the film which is most notable for the feature film debut of Steven Seagal. Davis then went back to Orion with his project The Package, working with Gene Hackman and Tommy Lee Jones.
Davis brought Jones with him to his next project, which was originally titled Dreadnaught but eventually carried the title Under Siege. In the picture Davis re-teamed with Seagal to create the top grossing fall film of 1992.
Davis continued directing big budget adventures throughout the 1990s including The Fugitive, starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones; Steal Big Steal Little featuring Alan Arkin and Andy Garcia in a dual role playing opposite himself as twin brothers; Chain Reaction with Keanu Reeves, Morgan Freeman and Rachel Weisz, and A Perfect Murder, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Michael Douglas, and Viggo Mortensen.
In the fall of 2001, Davis was set to release Warner Brother's Collateral Damage starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. The initial release date was pushed in an effort to be sensitive to the tragedies of 9/11. The film's plot and content too closely echoed the tragedy. The film was finally released theatrically in 2002.
In 2003 Davis developed Holes for the Walt Disney Company starring Shia LaBeouf, Sigourney Weaver, Patricia Arquette, and a sideburned Jon Voight. Louis Sachar and Davis developed the script based on Sachar's Newbery Medal and National Book Award-winning children's novel. A.O. Scott's review in The New York Times called it "the best film released by an American studio so far this year".
Davis filmed the Disney/Touchstone feature film, The Guardian in 2006. The film focuses on the Rescue Swimmers of the U.S. Coast Guard and stars Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher. Costner plays a legendary rescue swimmer who returns to the training facility to bring up the next generation of swimmers, in this case played by Kutcher. Production was halted when the film's New Orleans location was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. The real life Coast Guard advisers on the film were immediately deployed to rescue victims of the storm.
In 2013, Davis revealed he was working to develop a contemporary film adaptation of Treasure Island entitled Thieves' Fortune through his production company Chicago Pacific Entertainment. Davis is quoted describing the project as, "I'm currently putting together a modern version of Treasure Island set in post-Katrina Louisiana called Thieves Fortune. It's the treasure of Jean Lafitte and I think it could be a really interesting, fun movie that could be about something and still be very entertaining."1978: At Home with Shields and Yarnell
1978: Stony Island
1983: The Final Terror
1985: Code of Silence
1988: Above the Law
1989: The Package
1992: Under Siege
1993: The Fugitive
1995: Steal Big Steal Little
1996: Chain Reaction
1998: A Perfect Murder
2002: Collateral Damage
2005: Just Legal
2006: The Guardian
Davis received nominations for Golden Globe and DGA awards in the Best Director category for his work on The Fugitive.