Sequence variation in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) was traditionally considered to be selectively neutral. However, an accumulating body of evidence indicates that this assumption is invalid. Furthermore, recent advances indicate that mtDNA polymorphism can be maintained within populations via selection on the joint mitochondrial-nuclear genotype. Here, we review the latest findings that show mitochondrial and cytoplasmic genetic variation for life-history traits and fitness. We highlight the key importance of the mitochondrial-nuclear interaction as a unit of selection and discuss the consequences of mitochondrially encoded fitness effects on several key evolutionary processes. Our goal is to draw attention to the profound, yet neglected, influence of the mitochondrial genome on the fields of ecology and evolution.