Browning was born in Melbourne, Victoria, the daughter of Shelley and Andrew Browning. She has two younger brothers, Nicholas and Matthew.
Emily Browning's acting career began at the age of eight years old when she was noticed by a classmate's father at a school play and he recommended that she pursue acting as a profession.
A successful career in Australian film and television productions soon followed, including The Man Who Sued God, in which she played the daughter of Billy Connolly's character.
She later co-starred again with Connolly in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, in which she played the role of Violet Baudelaire.
She stated interest in doing a sequel of the movie A Series of Unfortunate Events although if a sequel was made, she would most likely not be cast as she has grown out of the role.