His work often explores themes of alienation and isolation, featuring characters whose interactions are mediated through technology, bureaucracy or other power structures. Egoyan's films often follow non-linear plot structures, in which events are placed out of sequence in order to elicit specific emotional reactions from the audience by withholding key information.
In 2008, Egoyan received the Dan David Prize for "Creative Rendering of the Past". Egoyan later received the Governor General's Performing Arts Award, Canada's highest royal honour in the performing arts, in 2015.
He was part of a loosely-affiliated group of filmmakers to emerge in the 1980s from Toronto known as the Toronto New Wave.
Egoyan was born Atom Yeghoyan (Western Armenian: Աթոմ Եղոյեան) in Cairo, Egypt, the son of Shushan (née Devletian) and Joseph Yeghoyan, artists who operated a furniture store. His parents were Armenian-Egyptians, and he was named Atom to mark the completion of Egypt's first nuclear reactor. In 1962, however, his parents left Egypt for Canada, where they settled in Victoria, British Columbia and changed their last name to Egoyan. Atom and his sister, Eve, now a concert pianist based in Toronto, were raised by their parents in British Columbia.
As a boy, Egoyan wished for assimilation into Canadian society and his struggle with his father led him to reject his family's Armenian culture. However, years later, when he attended the University of Toronto, he began to study Armenian history.
As a teenager, he became interested in reading and writing plays. Significant influences included Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter. Egoyan also attributes his future in the film industry to Ingmar Bergman's film Persona, which he viewed at age fourteen, according to an interview he had with journalist Robert K. Elder for The Film That Changed My Life. In that interview, he said:
It gave me an incredible respect for the medium and its possibilities. To me, Persona marries a pure form and a very profound vision with absolute conviction. It’s very inspiring. I felt that it was able to open a door that wasn’t there before.
He graduated from Trinity College at the University of Toronto. It was at Trinity College that Egoyan came into contact with Harold Nahabedian, the Armenian-Canadian Anglican Chaplain of Trinity College. In interviews Egoyan credited Nahabedian for introducing him to the language and history of his ethnic heritage. Egoyan also wrote for the University of Toronto's independent weekly, The Newspaper, during his time at the school.
Egoyan has directed 15 full-length films, several television episodes, and a few shorter pieces. His early work was based on his own material. In 1984, his debut film Next of Kin world-premiered at the International Filmfestival Mannheim-Heidelberg and won a major prize. His commercial breakthrough came with the film Exotica (1994). He received the Grand Prix (Belgian Film Critics Association) in Brussels, The International Critics Award at Cannes Film Festival and Best Film at the Canadian Screen Awards. But it was Egoyan's first attempt at adapted material that resulted in his best-known work, The Sweet Hereafter (1997), which earned him three prizes at the 50th Cannes Film Festival - the Grand Prize of the Jury, FIPRESCI Jury and Ecumenical Jury Prizes. The film also earned Egoyan Academy Award nominations for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.
He also directed Sarabande featuring Khanjian, Lori Singer, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma's performance of Bach's Fourth Suite for Unaccompanied Cello, as part of the latter's Inspired by Bach film series for Sony Classical.
The film Ararat (2002) generated much publicity for Egoyan. After Henri Verneuil's French-language film Mayrig (1991), it was the first major motion picture to deal directly with the Armenian Genocide. Ararat later won the Best Picture prize at the Genie Awards. The film was released in over 30 countries around the world. In 2004, Egoyan opened Camera Bar, a 50-seat cinema-lounge on Queen Street West in Toronto.
In 2005, Egoyan joined the Faculty of the Media and Communications division at European Graduate School (EGS) in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, where he conducts intensive summer seminars. Beginning in September 2006, Egoyan taught at the University of Toronto for three years. He joined the Faculty of Arts and Science as the Dean's Distinguished Visitor in theatre, film, music and visual studies. He currently teaches at Ryerson University. In 2006, he received the Master of Cinema Award of the International Filmfestival Mannheim-Heidelberg.
Later, he directed the erotic thriller Chloe (2009), theatrically released by Sony Pictures Classics on March 26, 2010. This film grossed $3 million in the United States theatrically and became one of the higher-grossing specialty films in the United States in 2010 (according to Variety, "$3 million is the new $10 million" for specialty films' box office in 2010). Several months after the DVD/Blu-ray release of Chloe, Atom Egoyan said that Chloe had made more money than any of his previous films. The success of Chloe led Egoyan to receive many scripts of erotic thrillers.
In 2012, he directed a production of Martin Crimp's Cruel and Tender, starring Khanjian, at Canadian Stage in Toronto.
After the release of the West Memphis Three from 18 years in prison, Egoyan directed a movie about the case called Devil's Knot (2013) starring Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth, based on a book on the case, Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three by Mara Leveritt. His next feature, The Captive (2014), starred Ryan Reynolds and was in competition at the Cannes Film Festival.
His latest film, Remember, starred Christopher Plummer and premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2015 and was later given a limited release in theatres.
Egoyan is based in Toronto, where he lives with his wife Arsinée Khanjian, a trilingual (English, French and Armenian) Armenian-Canadian actress who appears in many of Egoyan's films, and their son, Arshile (named after the Armenian-American painter Arshile Gorky).
In 1999, Egoyan was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, it was later upgraded to Companion of the order in December 30, 2015, the highest grade of the honour.In This Corner (1985)
Gross Misconduct (1993)
Krapp's Last Tape (2000)
Howard in Particular (1979)
After Grad with Dad (1980)
Peep Show (1981)
Open House (1982)
Men: A Passion Playground (1985)
Looking for Nothing (1988)
Montreal Stories (Montréal vu par...) (1991)
segment: En passant (In Passing)
A Portrait of Arshile (1995)
The Line (2000)
Chacun son cinéma / To Each His Own Cinema (2007)
segment: Artaud Double Bill
Venezia 70 Future Reload (2013)
Festival du Nouveau Cinéma (2014)
segment: L'Apparition (d'après René Magritte)