It has been a long-standing challenge to decipher the principles that enable cells to both organize their genomes into compact chromatin and ensure that the genetic information remains accessible to regulatory factors and enzymes within the confines of the nucleus. The discovery of nucleosome remodeling activities that utilize the energy of ATP to render nucleosomal DNA accessible has been a great leap forward. In vitro, these enzymes weaken the tight wrapping of DNA around the histone octamers, thereby facilitating the sliding of histone octamers to neighboring DNA segments, their displacement to unlinked DNA, and the accumulation of patches of accessible DNA on the surface of nucleosomes. It is presumed that the collective action of these enzymes endows chromatin with dynamic properties that govern all nuclear functions dealing with chromatin as a substrate. The diverse set of ATPases that qualify as the molecular motors of the nucleosome remodeling process have a common history and are part of a superfamily. The physiological context of their remodeling action builds on the association with a wide range of other proteins to form distinct complexes for nucleosome remodeling. This review summarizes the recent progress in our understanding of the mechanisms underlying the nucleosome remodeling reaction, the targeting of remodeling machines to selected sites in chromatin, and their integration into complex regulatory schemes.