Akin was born in 1973 in Hamburg to parents of Turkish ethnicity. He attended the Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg to study visual communications and graduated in 2000.
Fatih Akin has been married since 2004 to German-Mexican actress Monique Obermüller and lives in Hamburg-Altona, where he also grew up. His brother, Cem Akin is an actor.
Akin made his debut as director of a full-length film as early as 1998 with Short Sharp Shock (Kurz und schmerzlos), which brought him the "Bronze Leopard" award at the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland and the "Pierrot", the Bavarian Film Award for Best New Director in Munich the same year. Since then he has directed feature films such as In July (In July) in 2000, We forgot to go back (Wir haben vergessen zurückzukehren) in 2001 and Solino' in 2002. His fourth work, Head-On (Gegen die Wand), starring Sibel Kekilli, was a major success in 2004 and received several prizes, among them the Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival and the "Best Film" and the "Audience Award" at the 2004 European Film Awards.
In 2005 he directed a documentary about the Istanbul music scene, Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul, which includes musicians such as Ceza, Sezen Aksu, Aynur Doğan and Brenna MacCrimmon. It is narrated by a member of a German experimental band Einstürzende Neubauten, Alexander Hacke, who also produced music for Head-On.
In 2007, Akin's The Edge of Heaven, a German-Turkish cross-cultural tale of loss, mourning and forgiveness, won the prize for best screenplay at the 60th Cannes Film Festival in 2007. On 24 October 2007 the same film was awarded the first edition of the LUX prize for European cinema by the European Parliament.
His most recent film is the comedy Soul Kitchen (2009). He has said he chose this more light-hearted film because he needed a break after making the "tough" films Head-On and The Edge of Heaven before making his next planned film The Devil. "But", he says, "now I feel ready to finish the trilogy".
In 2012 his documentary film Polluting Paradise was screened in the Special Screenings section at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.
His 2014 film The Cut has been selected to compete for the Golden Lion at the 71st Venice International Film Festival.
In Akin's cinema, the lives of German Turks are a recurring theme, such as their struggles and their confusion about two different cultures. In Head-On, two different cultures are presented, the conservative Muslim and Turkish view of Sibel's family, and Sibel's open ideas about sex. Cahit is presented to be somewhat a mixture of these two ideas and cultures, representing a struggling Turk. Akin, on the other hand, has never denied his Turkish roots and even accepted the Cannes award in the name of Turkish cinema.
Akin has been criticized for actions that have been interpreted by some as trivializing the Holocaust and was investigated by German police for wearing a T-shirt with a Nazi swastika in place of the letter "S" in the word "BUSH". Akin defended the T-shirt as "more than mere provocation" and emphasized:
Bush's policy is comparable with that of the Third Reich. I think that under Bush, Hollywood has been making certain films at the request of The Pentagon to normalise things like torture and Guantanamo. I'm convinced the Bush administration wants a third world war. I think they're fascists.1998 Bavarian Film Awards, Best New Director
2004 Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival
2004 European Film Awards, Best Film, Audience Award
2007 Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival Golden Orange Award, Best Director
2007 Bavarian Film Awards, Best Director
2007 LUX Prize for European Cinema awarded by European Parliament
2007 Cannes Film Festival, Best Screenplay
2010 Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (Verdienstorden der Bundesrepublik Deutschland) for his contribution in depicting the problems of Turkish-Germans.