Lung cancer cell lines have made a substantial contribution to lung cancer translational research and biomedical discovery. A systematic approach to initiating and characterizing cell lines from small cell and non-small cell lung carcinomas has led to the current collection of more than 200 lung cancer cell lines, a number that exceeds those for other common epithelial cancers combined. The ready availability and widespread dissemination of the lines to investigators worldwide have resulted in more than 9000 citations, including multiple examples of important biomedical discoveries. The high (but not perfect) genomic similarities between lung cancer cell lines and the lung tumor type from which they were derived provide evidence of the relevance of their use. However, major problems including misidentification or cell line contamination remain. Ongoing studies and new approaches are expected to reveal the full potential of the lung cancer cell line panel.