Niccol was born in Paraparaumu, New Zealand, and grew up in Auckland, where he attended Auckland Grammar School beginning in 1973. He left New Zealand at age 21 and began directing TV ads in London, which he did for more than ten years before his directorial debut, Gattaca (1997). During production of S1m0ne, he met model and actress Rachel Roberts, with whom he has two children, Jack Niccol, (who also played "Young Nicolai" in the film Lord of War (2005)) and Ava Niccol.
Niccol has directed the films Gattaca (1997), S1m0ne (2002), Lord of War (2005), In Time (2011), The Host (2013), and Good Kill (2014) (reuniting after 17 years with actor Ethan Hawke in a lead role; Hawke also appeared in Lord of War as a supporting character named Jack Valentine). He has also directed a short film entitled The Minutes (2012), which is a documentary-esque, narrative tie-in to In Time that describes in more detail the world and characters from the film.