Life implies movement. Most forms of movement in the living world are powered by tiny protein machines known as molecular motors. Among the best known are motors that use sophisticated intramolecular amplification mechanisms to take nanometre steps along protein tracks in the cytoplasm. These motors transport a wide variety of cargo, power cell locomotion, drive cell division and, when combined in large ensembles, allow organisms to move. Motor defects can lead to severe diseases or may even be lethal. Basic principles of motor design and mechanism have now been derived, and an understanding of their complex cellular roles is emerging.