Beatty got his start in film under Elia Kazan's direction in Splendor in the Grass (1961), though he had previous television experience in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1959) and others. He went on to produce and star in Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Dick Tracy (1990), and Bulworth (1998). He also starred in Kaleidoscope (1966), McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), and The Parallax View (1974), among others.
In the early 1990s he dated pop-star Madonna. After breaking up with her, he married Annette Bening in 1992 and they have been married since.
Beatty is the brother of actress and writer Shirley MacLaine.