As the incidence of cancer continues to rise, the use of radiotherapy has emerged as a leading treatment modality. Preclinical models in radiation oncology are essential tools for cancer research and therapeutics. Various model systems have been used to test radiation therapy, including in vitro cell culture assays as well as in vivo ectopic and orthotopic xenograft models. This review aims to describe such models, their advantages and disadvantages, particularly as they have been employed in the discovery of molecular targets for tumor radiosensitization. Ultimately, any model system must be judged by its utility in developing more effective cancer therapies, which is in turn dependent on its ability to simulate the biology of tumors as they exist in situ. Although every model has its limitations, each has played a significant role in preclinical testing. Continued advances in preclinical models will allow for the identification and application of targets for radiation in the clinic.