The tumor suppressor p53 is a powerful antitumoral molecule frequently inactivated by mutations or deletions in cancer. However, half of all human tumors express wild-type p53, and its activation by antagonizing its negative regulator murine double minute 2 (MDM2) might offer a new therapeutic strategy. Proof-of-concept experiments have demonstrated the feasibility of this approach in vitro but the development of pharmacological inhibitors has been challenging. Recently, potent and selective small-molecule MDM2 inhibitors have been identified. Studies with these compounds have strengthened the concept that selective, non-genotoxic p53 activation is a viable alternative to current cytotoxic chemotherapy but clinical validation is still pending. Here, the new developments in the quest for pharmacological p53 activators are reviewed with an emphasis on small-molecule inhibitors of the p53-MDM2 interaction.