-----Fanning was born in Conyers, Georgia. Her mother, Heather Joy played tennis professionally, and her father, Steven J. Fanning, played minor league baseball. Dakota is the elder sister of Elle Fanning, also an actress.
Fanning began acting at the age of five after appearing on a Tide commercial. Her first significant acting job was a guest role in the NBC prime-time drama ER, which remains one of her favorite roles. Fanning subsequently had several guest roles on established television series, including CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, The Practice, and Spin City. She also portrayed the title characters of Ally McBeal and The Ellen Show as young girls.
In 2001, Fanning was chosen to star opposite Sean Penn in the movie I Am Sam, the story of a mentally challenged man who fights for the custody of his daughter (played by Fanning). Her role in the film made Fanning the youngest person ever to be nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award, being seven years of age at the time. She also won the Best Young Actor/Actress award from the Broadcast Film Critics Association for her performance.
As a child actress, she also appeared in high-profile films such as Man on Fire and War of the Worlds. In 2002, director Steven Spielberg cast Fanning in the lead child role of Allison "Allie" Clarke/Keys in the science fiction miniseries Taken.
Fanning next appeared in three films: as a kidnap victim who proves to be more than her abductors bargained for in Trapped, as the young version of Reese Witherspoon's character in Sweet Home Alabama, and as Katie in the movie Hansel and Gretel. A year later, she starred in two prominent films; playing the uptight child to an immature nanny played by Brittany Murphy in Uptown Girls and as Sally in The Cat in the Hat.
In 2006, Fanning began the transition to more adult roles with Hounddog. In 2008, she began filming of the movie adaptation of The Secret Life of Bees, a novel by Sue Monk Kidd Set in South Carolina in 1964, the story centers on Lily Owens (Fanning), who escapes her lonely life and troubled relationship with her father by running away with her caregiver and only friend (played by Jennifer Hudson) to a South Carolina town where they are taken in by an eccentric trio of beekeeping sisters (played by Queen Latifah, Sophie Okonedo, and Alicia Keys).
Her recent films have included The Twilight Saga, and the fantasy/horror animated children's movie Coraline. During the summer of 2011 she played Tessa in Now Is Good.
Fanning also became the face of Marc Jacobs’ Oh, Lola! perfume campaign, but the ad was banned in the U.K. as the Advertising Standards Authority judged that "the ad could be seen to sexualize a child."
Also in 2011, she played Annie James in The Motel Life, due to be released in mid-2012. In the fall of 2011, Fanning played the starring role in Effie.
In June 2011, Fanning graduated from Campbell Hall School in North Hollywood, California, where she participated on the varsity spirit cheerleading squad and was voted homecoming queen. She is currently studying at New York University.