Cohen was born in Cornwall, New York. He attended Harvard University and graduated magna cum laude in the class of ’71, concentrating in a cross major between anthropology and visual studies. His first endeavor in filmmaking was a commissioned recruiting film for Harvard's Admissions Office in 1970, which became his senior thesis.
Upon graduation, Cohen immediately headed to Los Angeles to work as a screenwriter for Martin Jurow but soon found himself unemployed when the producer moved out of state.
After a six-month stint as a kennel boy at the Harvey Animal Hospital in West Hollywood to make ends meet, Cohen landed a job as a reader for then-agent Mike Medavoy. Six weeks into his tenure at International Famous Agency (now part of ICM), he distinguished himself by discovering an unheralded script he found in a slush pile of neglected screenplays. Recognizing its quality, commerciality and uniqueness, Cohen wrote in his coverage that it was "the great American screenplay and this will make an award-winning, major-cast, major-director film." He championed the piece relentlessly, with his own job at stake, as Medavoy said that he would try to sell it on that recommendation, but promising to fire Cohen if he could not. Universal bought it that afternoon for a record price, and it became the Academy Award winning movie The Sting (1973). Cohen still keeps the coverage framed on the wall of his office, as this gave him his first identity in Hollywood: "the kid who found The Sting."
With a career in film and television spanning more than 40 years, Cohen has distinguished himself as a celebrated screenwriter, producer and director. In 1973, 20th Century Fox Television hired Cohen as ‘Head of Current Programming’ helping out with, among other shows, the first year of the epic hit, M*A*S*M*A*S*H. Eager to push Fox into ‘long form’, Cohen cold called the head of ABC and introduced himself as ‘the head of television movies at Fox’. Barry Diller gave him a meeting where he sold two TV films on the spot, properties he had found in the voluminous books of Fox's unproduced properties. A week later, he duplicated the feat at CBS under Philip Barry. Fox president, William Edwin Self, was not happy that a junior employee had garnered these commitments without permission but grudgingly gave Cohen the title Vice President of TV Movies.
Diller recommended Cohen to his friend impresario, songwriter, producer and record label founder Berry Gordy who was looking to bring his company Motown into the film business. He and Gordy connected in a deep and exciting way and he was hired to be the Executive Vice President and head of Motown's motion picture division.
Cohen went to work and developed the first Motown movie from his own idea about the burgeoning phenomenon of African American Super Models he felt was perfect for Motown star Diana Ross. He sold the package to Paramount and in 1974, the cameras rolled on Mahogany in Chicago and Rome. At the same time, he developed a unique film from the Bill Brashler novel The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976) starring Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones and Richard Pryor. To direct, he hired a then unknown TV director John Badham to make his feature debut, a critical hit set in the 1930s Negro National League (1920–31) (twenty years later, he and Badham would partner again to make a number of successful films at Universal Studios).
Departing Motown in 1978, Cohen went on to produce and direct films and television series, including Miami Vice, Light of Day, The Witches of Eastwick, Ironweed, and The Wiz.
From 1990 onwards, Cohen moved into directing full-time. Much success followed with early 90's films such as Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, Dragonheart, Daylight and the Golden Globe award winning film The Rat Pack.
At 52, Cohen had become an action director, directing the 2001 film, The Fast and the Furious. The film was a hit, opening with $40 million its first weekend, starring relative unknowns Paul Walker and Vin Diesel.
With the success of The Fast and the Furious, Cohen partnered up with Vin Diesel again the following year to direct XXX.
In 2008, he directed the third installment of The Mummy, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, grossing $405 million world-wide, and he directed Blumhouse Production's The Boy Next Door starring Jennifer Lopez in 2015.
Cohen is also a director of commercials, housed at Original Film, having made over 150 television commercials for products such Disney's Star Wars, Verizon, Ford, GM, Mercedes, Chevy, Saab and Burger King among many others.
Rob Cohen is the father of four children. He is an avid surfer, with homes in Bali, Indonesia and Los Angeles, California.A Small Circle of Friends (1980)Scandalous (1984)Miami Vice (1984) (TV – episode 1.18 "Made for Each Other," episode 1.21 "Evan" and episode 2.12 "Definitely Miami")Hooperman (1987) (TV)Thirtysomething (1987) (TV) (2 episodes)Almost Grown (1988) (TV) (4 episodes)The Antagonists (1991) (TV) (Pilot episode)Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993)Dragonheart (1996)Daylight (1996)The Guardian (1997) (TV)The Rat Pack (1998) (TV)The Skulls (2000)The Fast and the Furious (2001)XXX (2002)Rammstein: Music video for "Feuer frei!" (2002)Stealth (2005)The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008)Alex Cross (2012)The Boy Next Door (2015)The Hurricane Heist (2018) (Post-production)Mahogany (1975) (producer)The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976) (producer)Scott Joplin (1977) (executive producer)Thank God It's Friday (1978) (producer)Almost Summer (1978) (producer)The Wiz (1978) (producer)Amateur Night at the Dixie Bar and Grill (1979) (TV) (executive producer)The Razor's Edge (1984) (executive producer)The Legend of Billie Jean (1985) (producer)Light of Day (1987) (producer)The Witches of Eastwick (1987) (executive producer)The Monster Squad (1987) (executive producer and also producer)The Running Man (1987) (executive producer)Ironweed (1987) (executive producer)The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) (executive producer)Disorganized Crime (1989) (executive producer)Bird on a Wire (1990) (producer)The Hard Way (1991) (producer)Vanishing Son (1994) (TV) (executive producer)Vanishing Son II (1994) (TV) (executive producer)Vanishing Son III (1994) (TV) (executive producer)Vanishing Son IV (1994) (TV) (executive producer)The Last Ride (2005) (TV) (executive producer)XXX: State of the Union (2005) (executive producer)The Last Ride (2005) (TV) (story by)Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993)Vanishing Son (1994) (TV)The Hurricane Heist (2018)