Sequential ordering of purposeful movements includes distinct transitions between muscle contraction and relaxation. To explore cerebral activation patterns underlying such movement initiation and inhibition, we applied functional magnetic resonance imaging to test the effects of (1) ballistic movement (dominated by initiation), (2) movement with stepwise interruption (dominated by inhibition) and (3) smooth movements. Right-hand movements were performed by 21 healthy participants. In the basal ganglia, ballistic movements evoked putamen activation, indicating its specific contribution to initiation. Stepwise interrupted movement induced increased activation of the caudate nucleus, globus pallidus and subthalamic nucleus whereas, at the cortical level, supplementary motor area activation increased. This indicates a specific basal ganglia-thalamocortical circuit involved in motor inhibition.