After receiving an English degree from the University of Toronto, Kotcheff began directing dramatic programs for the Canadian Broadcasting System. In 1957, he relocated to London, England, where he worked in both theater (notably the Lionel Bart musical "Maggie May") and television, earning several British awards for his TV work which included "Edna, the Inebriated Woman". In the late 1960s, he settled in the USA where he directed several well-received dramas for ABC, including a small screen remake of "The Desperate Hours" (1967), about a family held hostage by three escaped convicts, "The Human Voice" (1967), which offered Ingrid Bergman in a solo performance, and a 1968 rendition of "Of Mice and Men".
Kotcheff had made his motion picture directorial debut with the British "Tiara Tahiti" (1962), with John Mills and James Mason as former army rivals. He went on to helm "Life at the Top" (1965), an inferior sequel to Jack Clayton's overpraised 1959 "Room at the Top". "Two Gentleman Sharing" (1969) was a sociological examination of an inter-racial friendship between a white ad executive and a black lawyer in 60s London while "Outback" (1971) explored the mental disintegration of a citified Australian schoolteacher. But it was not until "The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz" (1974) that Kotcheff won critical and audience notice. Adapted from Mordecai Richler's novel, the latter featured a tour-de-force performance by Richard Dreyfuss, embodying pure ambition. Kotcheff subsequently won the plum Hollywood assignment directing the ripe socio-political satire, "Fun With Dick and Jane" (1977), with George Segal and Jane Fonda as a suburban L.A. couple who resort to crime to maintain their lifestyle when he loses his job. He moved on to the cult murder comedy "Who Is Killing to Great Chefs of Europe?" (1978), which featured a strong performance by Robert Morley. "North Dallas Forty" (1979) offered a seriocomic look at professional football and gave Nick Nolte one of his best screen roles. "First Blood" (1982) introduced the world to Sylvester Stallone in one of his signature roles, Rambo. Kotcheff again collaborated with Richler with "Joshua Then and Now" (1985), about a Jewish writer married to a prominent WASP. He was less successful with "Switching Channels" (1988), a pallid remake of "The Front Page" with Kathleen Turner and Burt Reynolds, but scored a surprise success with the modest comedy "Weekend at Bernie's" (1989), in which Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman are bumbling accountants trying to keep the ruse that their boss is alive. But "Folks!" (1992), with Tom Selleck trying to deal with the senility of his father (Don Ameche), was a misfire. As of 1997, the director had numerous features in development, including "The Populist", a biopic of a former aide to Hitler who turns against the Fuhrer and offers help to the USA.
Kotcheff has also found success on the small screen, helming episodes of Showtime's erotic series "Red Shoe Diaries" as well as the 1994 TV-movie "Love on the Run" (NBC), in which a mercenary and an heiress wed. Kotcheff called the shots on "Family of Cops" (CBS, 1995), in which Charles Bronson was a police chief coping with an arrest in his own brood, and "A Husband, a Wife, and a Love" (CBS, 1996) with Judith Light.