Apoptosis research demonstrates that, even though the multitude of regulatory circuits controlling programmed cell death might diverge, core elements of the 'apoptotic engine' are widely conserved. Therefore, studies in less complex model systems, such as the nematode and the fly, should continue to have a profound impact on our understanding of the process. This review explores genes and molecules that control apoptosis in Drosophila. The death inducers Reaper, Grim and Hid relay signals, possibly through IAPs (inhibitor of apoptosis proteins) and Dark (an Apaf-1/Ced-4 homologue), to trigger caspase function. This animal model promises continued insights into the determinants of cell death in 'naturally occurring' and pathological contexts.