Ritchie was born in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, the second of two children of Amber (née Parkinson) and Captain John Vivian Ritchie (b. 1928), former Seaforth Highlanders serviceman and advertising executive. John's father was Major Stewart Ritchie, who died in France, in 1940, during World War II. John's mother was Doris Margaretta McLaughlin (b. 1896), daughter of Vivian Guy McLaughlin (b. 1865) and Edith Martineau (b. 1866), the latter by whom she shares close common ancestors with Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. The McLaughlins have a pedigree going back to King Edward I of England. Ritchie's mother, Amber, later married a baronet. His father's second marriage was to Shireen Ritchie, Baroness Ritchie of Brompton, a former model and later Conservative politician and life peer.
Ritchie, who is dyslexic, was expelled from Stanbridge Earls School at the age of 15. He has stated that drug use was the reason for the expulsion; his father has said that it was because his son was caught "cutting class and entertaining a girl in his room."
In addition to his elder sister Tabitha, a dance instructor, Ritchie has a half-brother, Kevin Baynton, who was born to Amber Parkinson when she was a teenager and given up for adoption. From 1973 until 1980, when they divorced, Ritchie's mother was married to Sir Michael Leighton, 11th baronet. As a divorcée, she is correctly styled as Amber, Lady Leighton.
In 1998, Ritchie and his father contacted their friend Peter Morton, of the Hard Rock Cafe chain, wondering if he had any potential investors for a debut film. Morton's nephew, Matthew Vaughn, had been studying film production in Los Angeles. Peter informed Vaughn of Ritchie's new film idea, and Vaughn agreed to produce. Matthew, John, Guy and Peter asked their mutual acquaintance, Trudie Styler, to invest in the production of Ritchie's second film. Styler had seen The Hard Case, and decided that co-funding the project would be a worthwhile opportunity. The production of the film, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was completed in about eight months. It was released in Great Britain in 1998, and after positive reviews, became an international success. Richie was introduced to Madonna, whom he would later wed, when the soundtrack for the film was issued on her Maverick Records label. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, which starred Nick Moran, also introduced actors Jason Statham (The Transporter), Jason Flemyng and Dexter Fletcher to worldwide audiences, as well as introducing former footballer Vinnie Jones to a new acting career. In 2000 Ritchie won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Motion Picture Screenplay. Ritchie created and produced a spin-off television series called Lock, Stock....
His second feature film was Snatch, released in the year 2000. Originally known as Diamonds, it was another caper comedy, this time backed by a major studio. The cast featured such Hollywood big names as Brad Pitt, Benicio del Toro and Dennis Farina, along with the returning Vinnie Jones and Statham. Similar to Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels in featuring a complex and inventive storyline in which the characters weave in and out of each other's lives, the film also plays with time, depicting events from various perspectives. It currently has a rating of 73% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Following his marriage to Madonna, Ritchie began focusing his filmmaking on his wife, directing her in both a music video (for the song "What It Feels Like for a Girl", a controversial video that showed Madonna engaging in violent behaviour, directed at men, including T-boning a car with three men in it, tasering and robbing a man at an ATM, scratching a police car and shooting two officers with a water gun, driving her car through a group of men playing street hockey and incinerating a man by throwing a lighter into a pool of gasoline) and a short film, Star, for the BMW films series. Ritchie's next film, also featuring Madonna, was a remake of the 1974 Lina Wertmüller hit Swept Away (also entitled Swept Away). Ritchie cast Madonna as a rich, rude socialite who, after a shipwreck, is trapped on a deserted island with a slovenly Communist sailor who humiliates her. Ritchie renamed the woman Amber Leighton after his mother. This film was both a critical and commercial disappointment.
Ritchie's next project was a Vegas-themed heist film entitled Revolver, which was critically panned in the US and UK. Ritchie was involved with a hidden camera show called Swag, for Channel Five in the UK, which turned the table on criminals and opportunists by using stunts to trap them in the act. Ritchie has also written and directed RocknRolla starring Gerard Butler. It scores 60% on Rotten Tomatoes and was generally received well.
In 2008, Ritchie directed a commercial for Nike called "Take It To The Next Level", about a young Dutch footballer who signs for Arsenal, showing the progression of his career from his viewpoint, until he makes his debut for the Netherlands. The commercial features cameo appearances from some football players with music by Eagles of Death Metal. Ritchie's movie Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law, received its theatrical release on 25 December 2009. The film was given generally positive reviews and grossed more than $520 million worldwide, becoming Ritchie's most successful film financially. The sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, was released on 16 December 2011. In June 2012 it was announced that Ritchie would direct an adaptation of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. On 29 October 2012, Ritchie produced a game trailer for Call of Duty: Black Ops II.
Ritchie directed Warner Bros.' The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which was filmed in 2013 in London and Italy, and was released in August 2015. In January 2014, Warner Bros. set Ritchie to direct King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, with Lionel Wigram producing and Joby Harold writing the script. Charlie Hunnam played King Arthur by Ritchie's choice. The film, scheduled to be the first of several in a franchise, premiered at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on May 8, 2017.
In October 2016, Disney announced that Ritchie had signed on to direct a live-action adaptation of Aladdin.
The Raindance Film Festival announced in August 2017 that it would be honouring Ritchie with its 2nd annual Auteur Award, describing him as a "prominent figure" who breathed "new life into the British film industry" with his "cult crime comedies."
Ritchie started training in Shotokan karate at the age of seven at the Budokwai in London, where he later achieved a black belt in judo. He also has a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Renzo Gracie.
On 18 May 2000, Ritchie was arrested by the police for an alleged assaulted on a 20-year-old man outside the Kensington home he shared with American singer Madonna, for suspicion of causing actual bodily harm. On 22 December 2000, Ritchie married Madonna at Skibo Castle in Scotland. They have a son, Rocco John Ritchie (born 11 August 2000 in Los Angeles) and adopted a Malawian baby boy in 2006, David (born 24 September 2005). Madonna eventually filed for divorce from Ritchie in October 2008, citing irreconcilable differences. On 15 December 2008, Madonna's spokeswoman announced that the singer had agreed to a divorce settlement with Ritchie, the terms of which grant him between £50–60 million ($68–81 million), a figure that includes the value of the couple's London pub and Wiltshire estate in England. Madonna and Ritchie issued a joint statement calling the previous announcement "misleading and inaccurate." The financial details of the settlement remained private. Their marriage was dissolved by District Judge Reid by decree nisi at the clinical Principal Registry of the Family Division in High Holborn, London. Madonna and Ritchie entered into a custody agreement for Rocco and David, then aged eight and three, respectively, and divided the children's time between Ritchie's London home and Madonna's in New York, where the two was joined by her daughter Lourdes, from previous relationship.
In February 2011 a £6m house he owns in London's Fitzrovia was occupied briefly by members of The Really Free School, a squatter organisation.
On 30 July 2015, Ritchie married model Jacqui Ainsley, whom he had been dating since 2010. They have three children: son Rafael (born 5 September 2011), daughter Rivka, (born 29 November 2012) and son Levi (born 8 June 2014).