After finishing school, Yakin worked in the film business helping to develop projects for several companies, and saw his first screenplay reach the screen in 1989, when The Punisher, a vehicle for Dolph Lundgren, was released. Yakin's next screenplay was The Rookie, starring Clint Eastwood and Charlie Sheen. Wanting to take on more personal material, Yakin drew from his experiences growing up in New York's inner city for his next screenplay, Fresh. Yakin opted to direct his screenplay for Fresh himself. The film won critical acclaim, earning the Filmmaker's Trophy at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival.
Yakin went back to his youth for inspiration on his next project. His experience with the Chassidic community informed his screenplay for A Price Above Rubies. Yakin rebounded with his next assignment, which was his first film that he directed but did not write; Remember the Titans was a major box office success, and moved him to the upper tier of bankable Hollywood talents.
His Holocaust drama Death in Love debuted in January 2008. Yakin describes it as a movie about the failure of the family and inability to change your past.