He was born in London, England, to a theatrical family. His parents were the actors Lawrence (1893-1939) and Beatrice Anderson (1893-1977). His great-aunt was Mary Anderson of Louisville, Kentucky, who became one of the first American Shakespearian actresses; the Mary Anderson Theatre in Louisville was dedicated to her.
Anderson appeared in two films as an actor: as Oily Boyd in Housemaster (1938); and as Marine Albert Fosdick in Noël Coward's In Which We Serve (1942). He joined Elstree Studios as a production runner in 1936 and became an assistant director by 1938.
His credits as assistant director includeSpy for a Day (1940), Freedom Radio (1940), Quiet Wedding (1941), Cottage to Let (1941) and Jeannie (1941). He was unit manager as well as actor on In Which We Serve (1942) and was assistant director on Unpublished Story (1942).
Anderson served with the Royal Signal Corps during the war, during which time he met Peter Ustinov. On demobilisation, Anderson went back to work as an assistant director on Ustinov's films School for Secrets (1946) and Vice Versa (1947). He was also an assistant director on Fame is the Spur (1947), One Night with You (1947) and Mr Perrin and Mr Trail (1948).
Anderson and Ustinov then wrote and directed a feature together, Private Angelo (1949.
Anderson then directed some B films Waterfront (1950) with Robert Newton, Hell Is Sold Out (1951), Night Was Our Friend (1952) and Dial 17 (1952).
Anderson then signed a contract with Associated British Picture Corporation for whom he wound up making five films. The first was a comedy, Will Any Gentleman...? (1953). It was followed by The House of the Arrow (1953).
The third was the war film The Dam Busters (1955), starring Richard Todd. It was the most popular movie at the British box office in 1955.
He followed this with the first cinema adaptation of George Orwell's 1984 (1956), co-financed with American money. It was a commercial failure, despite shooting a "happier" ending for the US release.
Anderson was then called in to direct Around the World in 80 Days (1956), after original director John Farrow had a falling out with producer Mike Todd. The film was a huge hit and Anderson was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for his direction. Todd signed Anderson to a two picture contract but Todd died in a plane crash in 1958.
Anderson was reunited with Todd for another war film Yangtse Incident: The Story of H.M.S. Amethyst (1957) for producer Herbert Wilcox but it was not as popular as The Dam Busters. He made a third film with Todd, a thriller, Chase a Crooked Shadow (1958); this was his last movie for Associate British.
In Ireland he made a thriller about the IRA with James Cagney, Shake Hands with the Devil (1959). It was made for Pennebaker, the company of Marlon Brando. Anderson then took over a project originally meant for Alfred Hitchcock, The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959), with Gary Cooper and Charlton Heston.
It was made by MGM who financed Anderson's next film, the melodrama All the Fine Young Cannibals (1960). Anderson was reunited with Cooper in The Naked Edge (1961) which turned out to be Cooper's last film.
Anderson made some films for Harold Hecht: Flight from Ashiya (1964), an adventure tale, and Wild and Wonderful (1964), a comedy with Tony Curtis. For MGM and Carlo Ponti he directed the war time thriller Operation Crossbow (1965).
Anderson made a spy thriller The Quiller Memorandum (1966). He was meant to direct Eye of the Devil but fell ill. For MGM he directed the 1968 film The Shoes of the Fisherman, stepping in for Anthony Asquith at the last moment; the film was a flop.
Anderson went for a few years without making a film before returning with Pope Joan (1972) and The Devil's Impostor (1972). For George Paul he made Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze (1975) then did Conduct Unbecoming (1975).
Logan's Run (1976) an expensive box-office success, contributing a box office of $50 million worldwide and boosting sales for its distributor, Metro Goldwyn Mayer. Anderson then directed Orca (1977) and Dominique (1978) and Murder By Phone (1979).
Anderson's later work was mostly made-for-television miniseries, including The Martian Chronicles (1980), Sword of Gideon (1986), Young Catherine (1991), The Sea Wolf (1993), Rugged Gold (1994), Captain's Courageous (1996) and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1997).
His feature work included Murder by Phone (1982), the New Zealand film Second Time Lucky (1984), Separate Vacations (1986), Summer of the Monkeys (1988), and Millennium (1989) and The Grand Defiance (1993).
In 1988, he directed Bottega dell'orefice (The Jeweler's Shop), based on the 1960 play written by Karol Wojtyła (later Pope John Paul II).
His last film credit was The New Adventures of Pinocchio (1999).
He is fluent in French, Italian, and German.
In 2012, Michael Anderson received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Directors Guild of Canada.
Anderson is currently the oldest living nominee for an Academy Award for Best Director, and the only living director whose film won a Best Picture award in the 1950s.
He has been married three times:
- Betty Jordan (1923-2008) married in 1939; five children
- Vera Carlisle (1935-) married in 1969; one child
- Actress Adrienne Ellis 1977 to date; two stepchildren; stepfather of actress Laurie Holden (The X-Files, Silent Hill, The Mist, The Walking Dead) and Christopher Holden.
His son Michael Anderson, Jr., is an actor who appeared in Logan's Run; another son, David Anderson, is a film producer.Private Angelo (1949)
Waterfront Women (1950)
Hell Is Sold Out (1951)
Night Was Our Friend (1951)
Will Any Gentleman...? (1953)
The House of the Arrow (1953)
The Dam Busters (1955)
Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
Yangtse Incident: The Story of H.M.S. Amethyst (1957)
Chase a Crooked Shadow (1958)
Shake Hands with the Devil (1959)
The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959)
All the Fine Young Cannibals (1960)
The Naked Edge (1961)
Flight from Ashiya (1964)
Wild and Wonderful (1964)
Operation Crossbow (1965)
The Quiller Memorandum (1966)
The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968)
Pope Joan (1972)
Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze (1975)
Conduct Unbecoming (1975)
Logan's Run (1976)
Nessie (1977) was to be a co-production between Hammer Films and Toho Company Ltd. The project was cancelled during pre-production after promotional material was printed and published in trade magazines such as Variety.
The Martian Chronicles (1980) (TV)
Murder by Phone (1982)
Second Time Lucky (1984)
Separate Vacations (1986)
Sword of Gideon (1986) (TV)
The Jeweller's Shop (1989)
Young Catherine (1991) (TV)
The Sea Wolf (1993) (TV)
Rugged Gold (1994) (TV)
Captains Courageous (1996) (TV)
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1997) (TV)
Summer of the Monkeys (1998)
The New Adventures of Pinocchio (1999)