The film was the directorial debut of conceptual artist/photographer Sam Taylor-Wood. The screenplay was written by Matt Greenhalgh, who also wrote the Joy Division film Control. The film was shot on location in Liverpool, and at Ealing Studios in West London. Some of the interior school scenes were filmed at Sacred Heart Catholic College in Crosby.
When the film was announced, initial media accounts following the announcement of the film indicated that it would be based on the book Imagine This: Growing Up With My Brother John Lennon by Lennon's half sister Julia Baird. However, the credits for the completed film do not reference either the book or Baird, with sole writing credit accorded to screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh.
The film received a National Lottery funding of ₤1.2 million from the UK Film Council Premier Fund, with an additional ₤35,500 from its Development Fund to create the script. The film also received a grant from Film4 (the film division of Channel 4).
The film premiered in the UK on 26 December 2009. Its US release was on October 8, 2010, coinciding with that weekend's celebrations of the 70th anniversary of Lennon's birth.
HanWay Films represented worldwide sales. Distributor Icon Entertainment International took the rights for the United Kingdom and Australia. Mars Distribution acquired the rights for France. The Weinstein Company will distribute the film in the US, Germany, and Latin America.
The film had its world premiere on 29 October 2009 at the closing night of the London Film Festival. The film was screened at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival on 27 January. It screened again at the Maui Film Festival in Wailea, Hawaii, on June 18, 2010, and at The Fest for Beatles Fans convention in Chicago on 14 August 2010.
Nowhere Boy was nominated for four British Academy Film Awards: Outstanding British Film, Best Supporting Actress (one each for Anne-Marie Duff and Kristin Scott Thomas), and Outstanding Debut by a British director (Sam Taylor-Wood).
The soundtrack features several of the songs played by The Quarrymen at the time depicted in the film. New recordings were made featuring performances by Johnson and Thomas Sangster. Sangster was able to play the guitar before landing his role, but, as he is right-handed, learned how to play left-handed, à la McCartney. Producers negotiated with Yoko Ono for the rights to use Lennon's song "Mother" in the film. In addition to the featured songs, British electronica duo Goldfrapp provide the film's instrumental score. It was released digitally on 11 December 2009 and in stores as a two-disc album by Sony Music on 29 December 2009.