Ferrer made his film debut with Ingrid Bergman in Joan of Arc in 1948, for which he received his first Academy Award nomination for "Best Supporting Actor". In 1950 Ferrer won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Cyrano de Bergerac in the 1950 film of that name. He played the same role on stage in 1946 (winning a Tony Award), and on TV in 1949 and 1955. He played Cyrano yet again in the French movie, Cyrano et D'Artagnan.
In 1952 Ferrer won three Tony Awards for directing three plays during the same season (The Shrike, Stalag 17, The Fourposter) and earned another Tony for also acting in The Shrike.
Also in 1952, Ferrer portrayed French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in John Huston's Moulin Rouge (Oscar nominated). He appeared in 1953's Miss Sadie Thompson opposite Rita Hayworth, in 1954's The Caine Mutiny and the MGM musical Deep in My Heart. In 1955 Ferrer directed himself in The Shrike. The Cockleshell Heroes followed a year later, along with The Great Man. In 1958 Ferrer appeared in I Accuse! and The High Cost of Loving. Ferrer also directed, but did not appear in, Return to Peyton Place in 1961 and the re-make of State Fair in 1962.
His other notable films include Lawrence of Arabia in 1962, The Greatest Story Ever Told in 1965, Ship of Fools also in 1965, Woody Allen's A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy in 1982, Dune in 1984. Ferrer also had a recurring role as Julia Duffy's wealthy father on the popular Newhart television sitcom in the U.S. in the 1980s.
Ferrer had five children with singer-actress Rosemary Clooney: Miguel was born in 1955, Maria in 1956, Gabriel in 1957, Monsita in 1958, and Rafael in 1960. Clooney was Ferrer's third wife. The two were married in 1953, divorced in 1961, and remarried in 1964, only to be divorced again in 1967. Ferrer had previously been married to Uta Hagen (1938-1948) and Phyllis Hill (1948-1953). At the time of his death, Ferrer was married to Stella Magee, whom he married in 1992.