ARDS includes a complex series of events leading to alveolar damage, high permeability pulmonary edema, and respiratory failure. The endogenous pulmonary surfactant system is crucial to maintaining normal lung function, and only recently has it been appreciated that alterations in the surfactant system significantly contributed to the pathophysiology of the lung injury of patients with ARDS. Through a combination of analyzing BAL samples from patients with ARDS and extensive animal studies, there have been significant insights into the variety of surfactant abnormalities that can occur in injured lungs. These include altered surfactant composition and pool sizes, abnormal surfactant metabolism, and inactivation of alveolar surfactant by serum proteins present within the airspace. Positive effects of exogenous surfactant administration on acute lung injury have been reported. There is now a prospective, randomized clinical trial evaluating the efficacy of aerosolized exogenous surfactant in patients with ARDS. This trial has demonstrated improvements in gas exchange and a trend toward decreased mortality in response to the surfactant. Despite these encouraging results, there are multiple factors requiring further investigation in the development of optimal surfactant treatment strategies for patients with ARDS. Such factors include the development of optimal surfactant delivery techniques, determining the ideal time for surfactant administration during the course of injury, and the development of optimal exogenous surfactant preparations that will be used to treat these patients. With further clinical trials and continued research efforts, exogenous surfactant administration should play a useful role in the future therapeutic approach to patients with ARDS.