Luhrmann was born in Sydney. His mother, Barbara Carmel (née Brennan), was a ballroom dance teacher and dress shop owner, and his father, Leonard Luhrmann, was a farmer. He was raised in Herons Creek, a tiny rural settlement in northern New South Wales where his father ran a petrol station and a movie theatre. He attended St Joseph's Hasting Regional School, Port Macquarie (1975–1978) and at St Paul's College, Manly, performing in the school's version of Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1.
The modern film interpretation Romeo + Juliet starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes defeated Titanic at the BAFTAs for best direction, music and screenplay. The film was celebrated at the Berlin Film Festival where it was recognised with the Gold Bear award for direction and Silver Bear for DiCaprio's performance. Luhrmann also produced the successful soundtrack albums for the film which collectively went on to sell more than eight million copies worldwide.
Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge! (2001) was named one of the AFI's top ten films of 2001 and in 2010 was chosen as the top film of the 2000s decade in a poll of 150,000 respondents in the United Kingdom. The film also gave birth to a successful soundtrack album, selling more than seven million copies, led by the Grammy-winning number one hit single, "Lady Marmalade".
Luhrmann's 2008 romantic epic Australia starred Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. While achieving modest box office in the United States, the film was very successful in Europe, maintaining the number one slot at the box office for many weeks in France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the Scandinavian countries. The film is the second-highest grossing Australian film of all time, next to "Crocodile" Dundee and ahead of Happy Feet.
2003: Luhrmann brought his production of Puccini's La bohème to the Broadway Theatre in New York City. Originally produced for Opera Australia in Sydney in 1990, once in New York it eventually received seven Tony Award nominations, including Best Revival of a Musical, Best Direction (Luhrmann), Best Orchestrations (Nicholas Kitsopoulos), Best Costume Design (Catherine Martin) and won Best Set Design (Catherine Martin), Best Lighting Design (Nigel Levings), and the Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre for the Principal Ensemble Cast.
2004: Luhrmann directed a lavish multimillion-dollar commercial for Chanel N° 5 titled N° 5 the Film, inspired by his Red Curtain trilogy, starring Nicole Kidman and Rodrigo Santoro. On the Charlie Rose interview show he told Rose that he based the commercial on the 1953 film Roman Holiday.
2010: Luhrmann and the painter Vincent Fantauzzo embarked on an art initiative which took them to India, where they created artworks on walls of hotels, in the streets of Rajasthan and on 17th century forts.
Luhrmann has cited Italian grand opera as a major influence on his work and has also given a nod to other theatrical styles, such as Bollywood films, as having had an impact on his style. Luhrmann was a ballroom dancer as a child and his mother taught ballroom dancing which was an inspiration for Strictly Ballroom. Luhrmann's favourite films are Star 80, 8½, War and Peace, Medium Cool and Fitzcarraldo.
Luhrmann received Directors Guild of America and Golden Globe nominations for Best Director – Motion Picture for his work on Moulin Rouge!, but did not receive an Oscar nomination for directing even though the film itself was nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture (Academy Award host Whoopi Goldberg joked "I guess it just directed itself.").
AFI Awards, USA – 2002 – Nominated, AFI Film Award; AFI Movie of the Year for Moulin Rouge!
Academy Awards, USA – 2002 – Nominated, Oscar; Best Picture for Moulin Rouge!