He wrote film criticism and reviews for the Spanish film journal Nuestro Cine, and made a series of short films before making his first feature film, The Spirit of the Beehive (1973), a critical portrait of 1940s rural Spain.
Ten years later, Erice wrote and directed El Sur (1983), based on a story from Adelaida García Morales, another highly regarded film, although the producer Elías Querejeta only allowed him to film the first two-thirds of the story. His third movie, The Quince Tree Sun (1992) is a documentary about painter Antonio López García. The film won the Jury Prize and the FIPRESCI Prize at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival.
He was a member of the jury at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival in May.