Youngest of 7 children born to Mark and Dolores Modine, he was raised in a tight-knit Mormon family, which was forced to move every couple of years because his father worked as a drive-in movie operator. All of the children worked in the drive-ins.
After seeing a documentary about the film Oliver! (1968), Modine decided he wanted to become an actor. After high school, he dropped out of BYU and worked several odd jobs before moving to New York in 1979. He landed a job as a chef at Au Natural in Manhattan, where he met his wife, Cari (Caridad Rivera). They married a year later, and Matthew began landing roles in film, and later theatre and TV.
He and Caridad have 2 children together: son Boman and daughter Ruby. The Modine family live at Arbolay, a 100-acre farm in Upstate Millbrook, NY.