Butterfield was born in Islington, London, and is the son of Jacqueline Farr, a psychologist, and Sam Butterfield, an advertising copywriter.
Butterfield first started acting at the age of 7 at the Young Actors Theatre Islington. Later, he secured minor roles in the 2006 television drama After Thomas and the 2007 film, Son of Rambow. In 2008, he had a guest role playing Donny in the television series Ashes to Ashes. In that same year, aged 10, he played the lead role in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Director Mark Herman said that they came across Butterfield early on in the audition process. He was on the first audition tape he received and he was the third hopeful he met in person. Herman thought Butterfield's performance was outstanding, but only decided to cast him after auditioning hundreds of other boys, "so no stone was left unturned". Producer David Heyman and director Mark Herman were looking for someone who was able to portray the main character's innocence, so they asked each of the children what they knew about the Holocaust. Butterfield's knowledge was slim and it was purposely kept that way throughout filming so it would be easier for him to convey his character's innocence. The final scenes of the film were shot at the end of the production period to prepare both him and Jack Scanlon for the dramatic ending of the film. He beat hundreds of boys to the role and also successfully passed the auditions for a role in Mr. Nobody for which he auditioned at the same time. He elected not to pursue the latter role. In 2008, Butterfield appeared in the Merlin episode "The Beginning of the End"; he played a young druid boy sentenced to death by Uther Pendragon because he feels threatened by the boy's magic. Butterfield appeared as Mordred in a number of subsequent episodes. In 2010, he had a small part in The Wolfman. He starred as Norman Green in Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang. The film, and his performance, both received positive reviews. At the age of 13 he played the main and title character in Martin Scorsese's Hugo, adapted from the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Hugo was released on 23 November 2011, and achieved critical success. Butterfield played the title role of Andrew "Ender" Wiggin in the film adaptation of the Orson Scott Card novel Ender's Game. The film was released in 2013. After the shooting of Ender's Game, Butterfield was immediately cast in coming of age British drama X+Y as Nathan Ellis, a mathematical savant on the autism spectrum selected to compete with other gifted children on a United Kingdom team in an internationally renowned mathematics competition. The film premiered on 5 September 2014 at the Toronto International Film Festival and was released in UK cinemas on 13 March 2015. Butterfield's performance received widespread critical acclaim and saw him nominated for the BIFA Award for Best Actor. Later in 2013, Butterfield was reported to be in talks for a role in King of Kastle and in May, he was cast in The White Circus. In early 2014, Butterfield was cast in a film adaptation of Ten Thousand Saints, which was released on 14 August 2015. In November 2015, he joined the ensemble cast of Shane Carruth's third film, The Modern Ocean. In 2016, he starred as Jacob "Jake" Portman in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. He also starred as Gardner Elliot in the film The Space Between Us and as Sebastian in The House of Tomorrow in 2017. In 2018, Butterfield was cast in the main role of Otis Milburn on the Netflix comedy-drama series, Sex Education. The series was released on 11 January 2019 to critical acclaim.
Butterfield enjoys making and producing music, and released a mashup of the songs "Teenage Dirtbag" by Wheatus and "Making Plans for Nigel" by XTC. Along with his brother, he is part of a music group called Mambo Fresh. In late 2012, Butterfield co-designed a turn-basedvideo game for iPad with his father and brother called Racing Blind. The game was released to the App Store on 7 April 2013. Butterfield is involved in competitive Nintendo gaming. In 2017, he competed in the Nintendo World Championships, where he was eliminated early in the invitational. He is an enthusiastic player of competitive Super Smash Bros. and has signed with eSports team Panda Global under the tag "Stimpy". His first appearance with the organisation was at Genesis 6. Since 2017 Butterfield has taught an annual acting masterclass at The Reel Scene acting school in London. The three-day Asa Butterfield Masterclass course covers improvisation techniques and students work on scenes from Butterfield's films, which are then filmed on the last day. In 2018, students appeared as extras in the film Greed in which Butterfield appeared.