In many patients with brain metastases, the primary therapeutic aim is symptom palliation and maintenance of neurologic function, but in a subgroup, long-term survival is possible. Local control in the brain, and absent or controlled extracranial sites of disease are prerequisites for favorable survival. Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) is a focal, highly precise treatment option with a long track record. Its clinical development and implementation by several pioneering institutions eventually rendered possible cooperative group randomized trials. A systematic review of those studies and other landmark studies was undertaken. Most clinicians are aware of the potential benefits of SRS such as a short treatment time, a high probability of treated-lesion control and, when adhering to typical dose/volume recommendations, a low normal tissue complication probability. However, SRS as sole first-line treatment carries a risk of failure in non-treated brain regions, which has resulted in controversy around when to add whole-brain radiotherapy (WBRT). SRS might also be prescribed as salvage treatment in patients relapsing despite previous SRS and/or WBRT. An optimal balance between intracranial control and side effects requires continued research efforts.