As articular cartilage has very limited self-repair capability, the repair and regeneration of damaged cartilage is a major challenge. This review aims to outline the past, present, and future of cell therapies for articular cartilage defect repair. Autologous chondrocyte implantation (ACI) has been used clinically for more than 20 years, and the short, medium, and long-term clinical outcomes of three generation of ACI are extensively overviewed. Also, strategies of clinical outcome evaluation, ACI limitations, and the comparison of ACI clinical outcomes with those of other surgical techniques are discussed. Moreover, mesenchymal stem cells and pluripotent stem cells for cartilage regeneration in vitro, in vivo, and in a few clinical studies are reviewed. This review not only comprehensively analyzes the ACI clinical data but also considers the findings from state-of-the-art stem cell research on cartilage repair from bench and bedside. The conclusion provides clues for the future development of strategies for cartilage regeneration.