Sorvino was raised in Tenafly, New Jersey, where she wrote and acted in backyard plays with her childhood friend Hope Davis and in theater productions at Dwight-Englewood School. Sorvino has said that as a child she was strongly influenced by her mother to pursue social causes; her mother had participated at the March on Washington. Sorvino excelled in high school, and was accepted into Harvard University. She studied for one year as an exchange student with CIEE in Beijing, China, where she became fluent in Mandarin Chinese. In 1989, she graduated from Harvard magna cum laude with a degree in East Asian studies. She also helped found the Harvard-Radcliffe Veritones, one of Harvard's co-ed a cappella groups in 1985.
Sorvino's first major screen appearance was in the teen television series Swans Crossing, on which she appeared in six episodes. When the 1993 film Amongst Friends entered preproduction, she was hired as third assistant Director, then was promoted to casting Director, then to assistant Producer, and was finally offered a lead role. Positive reviews led to other acting opportunities.
After small roles in Robert Redford's Quiz Show and Whit Stillman's Barcelona, she was cast in the 1995 Woody Allen film Mighty Aphrodite. Her portrayal of a happy-go-lucky prostitute made her a star, winning her an Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress. While the film garnered Sorvino international notoriety, she described the shooting of the film as extremely stressful: "I was absolutely neurotic doing Mighty Aphrodite," she recalled. "Every night brought a new nervous breakdown. I'd cry and talk to God, I was so nervous. Then the next day, I'd show up and do my scenes."
She also starred in the films Romy and Michele's High School Reunion (1997), Mimic (1997), Lulu on the Bridge (1998), The Replacement Killers (1998), Summer of Sam (1999), and Like Dandelion Dust (2009). She received Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for her role in Norma Jean & Marilyn (1996), and a Golden Globe nomination for her role in Human Trafficking (2005).
In 2002, Sorvino appeared as the lead in The Triumph of Love, an adaptation of the 1732 Marivaux play. In 2006, she received a Golden Globe nomination for her role as an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent in the Lifetime film Human Trafficking. The following year, she had a supporting role in the drama Reservation Road (2007), with Mark Ruffalo.
She has been affiliated with Amnesty International since 2004, and in 2006, was honored with Amnesty International’s Artist of Conscience Award given to those who have displayed longstanding philanthropic and humanist efforts. Sorvino has been a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador to Combat Human Trafficking, since 2009 through 2012, and has lobbied Congress to abolish human trafficking in Darfur.
In February 2008, she guest-starred in the "Frozen" episode of the medical television drama House. Making her character, Psychiatrist Cate Milton, a recurring character, was mentioned, but the writers' strike put a freeze on such discussions.
She starred in Attack on Leningrad (2009), Multiple Sarcasms (2010) with Timothy Hutton and Stockard Channing, and Nancy Savoca's Union Square (2012), with Patti Lupone and Tammy Blanchard. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to good reviews. In the same year, Sorvino played the mother of the lead in the film adaptation of Wendy Mass’s popular children’s book Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life.
In 2017, Mira Sorvino came out publicly about the sexual harassment she endured from Producer Harvey Weinstein. As one of his many victims, Sorvino believes that her career may have been damaged after rebuffing Weinstein's advances.