Hamilton was born in Paris on 16 September 1922, where his English parents were living, and attended school in England. His first exposure to the film industry came in 1938, when he was a clapperboard boy at the Victorine Studios in Nice. At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Hamilton escaped from France by the MV Saltersgate, a collier bound for French North Africa; one of the other 500 refugees aboard was W. Somerset Maugham. Having travelled from Oran to Gibraltar before arriving in London, he worked in the film library at Paramount News before being commissioned in the Royal Navy; he served in the 15th Motor Gun Boat Flotilla, a unit that ferried agents into France and brought downed British pilots back to England. During this Service he was left behind for a month in occupied Brittany; he was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
Shortly after the war, Hamilton returned to the film industry as an assistant Director on three Carol Reed films: The Fallen Idol (1948); The Third Man (1949), in which Hamilton doubled for Orson Welles in a couple of shots; and Outcast of the Islands (1951). Hamilton held Reed in high esteem; Reed was instrumental in getting him his first position as Director, on the B-movie The Ringer (1952).
His other films of the 1950s include An Inspector Calls (1954, starring Alastair Sim), the musical comedy Charley Moon (1956), and Manuela (1957).
Hamilton had his first experience with larger-budget films towards the end of the decade, when he replaced the sacked Alexander Mackendrick on the set of The Devil's Disciple (1959) featuring Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster.
Hamilton again found himself working with a war theme on the Dino De Laurentiis-produced Italian war comedy The Best of Enemies (1961). This was the first film to show Hamilton's skill with intricate set-piece action sequences.
He turned down an offer to direct Dr. No (1962), the first James Bond film. His next release, and somewhat outside his developing œuvre, was The Party's Over, which, though filmed in 1963, was not released until 1965. The film was heavily censored and, in protest, Hamilton asked for his name to be removed when the film was finally released.
Hamilton followed with his first James Bond film, Goldfinger (1964). He was able to successfully merge the series' mix of action adventure, sexual innuendo and black humour. In the late 1960s, Hamilton directed two further films for Bond Producer Harry Saltzman: Funeral in Berlin (1966, starring Michael Caine), and the war epic Battle of Britain (1969).
Hamilton's only films in the latter part of the 1970s were the commercially unsuccessful Force 10 from Navarone (1978) and the poorly received adaptation of Agatha Christie's mystery The Mirror Crack'd (1980). He was originally chosen to direct Superman: The Movie (1978), but, owing to his status as a tax exile, he was allowed to be in England for only thirty days, where production had moved at the last minute to Pinewood Studios. The job of Director was then passed to Richard Donner, but Hamilton insisted he be paid in full.
Hamilton returned to the Bond film franchise with the chase- and heavily gadget-dependent Diamonds Are Forever (1971), Live and Let Die (1973) and The Man with the Golden Gun (1974). He claimed in a much later interview that he had instructed Roger Moore not to mimic Sean Connery's rendition of James Bond.
In the late 1980s, Guy Hamilton was also approached to direct Batman (1989), but declined. In a 2003 interview, he said that the contemporary Bond films relied too heavily on special effects and not as much on the spectacular and risky Stunts of the Bond films of his era.
Another Christie adaptation followed in 1982, with Evil Under the Sun which was received more favourably than The Mirror Crack'd. Hamilton directed only two more films in the 1980s (Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins in 1985 and 1989's Try This One for Size) before retiring.
Hamilton died at the age of 93 on 20 April 2016, at his home in Majorca, Spain.