For over a decade, the actin-related protein 2/3 (ARP2/3) complex, a handful of nucleation-promoting factors and formins were the only molecules known to directly nucleate actin filament formation de novo. However, the past several years have seen a surge in the discovery of mammalian proteins with roles in actin nucleation and dynamics. Newly recognized nucleation-promoting factors, such as WASP and SCAR homologue (WASH), WASP homologue associated with actin, membranes and microtubules (WHAMM), and junction-mediating regulatory protein (JMY), stimulate ARP2/3 activity at distinct cellular locations. Formin nucleators with additional biochemical and cellular activities have also been uncovered. Finally, the Spire, cordon-bleu and leiomodin nucleators have revealed new ways of overcoming the kinetic barriers to actin polymerization.