Respiratory motion can cause significant dose delivery errors in conformal radiation therapy for thoracic and upper abdominal tumors. Four-dimensional computed tomography (4D CT) has been proposed to provide the image data necessary to model tumor motion and consequently reduce these errors. The purpose of this work was to compare 4D CT reconstruction methods using amplitude sorting and phase angle sorting. A 16-slice CT scanner was operated in ciné mode to acquire 25 scans consecutively at each couch position through the thorax. The patient underwent synchronized external respiratory measurements. The scans were sorted into 12 phases based, respectively, on the amplitude and direction (inhalation or exhalation) or on the phase angle (0-360 degrees) of the external respiratory signal. With the assumption that lung motion is largely proportional to the measured respiratory amplitude, the variation in amplitude corresponds to the variation in motion for each phase. A smaller variation in amplitude would associate with an improved reconstructed image. Air content, defined as the amount of air within the lungs, bronchi, and trachea in a 16-slice CT segment and used by our group as a surrogate for internal motion, was correlated to the respiratory amplitude and phase angle throughout the lungs. For the 35 patients who underwent quiet breathing, images (similar to those used for treatment planning) and animations (used to display respiratory motion) generated using amplitude sorting displayed fewer reconstruction artifacts than those generated using phase angle sorting. The variations in respiratory amplitude were significantly smaller (P < 0.001) with amplitude sorting than those with phase angle sorting. The subdivision of the breathing cycle into more (finer) phases improved the consistency in respiratory amplitude for amplitude sorting, but not for phase angle sorting. For 33 of the 35 patients, the air content showed significantly improved (P < 0.001) correlation with the respiratory amplitude than with the phase angle, suggesting a stronger relationship between internal motion and amplitude. Overall, amplitude sorting performed better than phase angle sorting for 33 of the 35 patients and equally well for two patients who were immobilized with a stereotactic body frame and an abdominal compression plate.