Recent studies on RNA polymerase III (pol III) gene transcription have provided a new awareness of the molecular complexity of this process. Fortunately, while the number of transcription components has been increasing, fundamental similarities have emerged regarding the function of eukaryotic promoter elements and the factors that bind them to form preinitiation complexes. Among these, the ability of transcription factor IIIB (TFIIIB) and pol III to transcribe the Saccharomyces cerevisiae U6 gene suggests that the concept of a minimal pol II promoter comprising a TATA box and an initiator region has a parallel in the pol III system. Furthermore, for each of the three classes of eukaryotic RNA polymerase, the assembly of transcription preinitiation complexes and, to some extent, the nature of these complexes appears to be more similar than was previously anticipated. This work highlights the novel functions and transcriptional properties of newly identified pol III genes, discusses the diversity of pol III promoter structures and presents the notion that the exclusive use of extragenic promoters by some pol III genes (so-called type-3 genes) may have evolved since the divergence of yeast and higher eukaryotes. Additionally, recent progress is reviewed on the identification and cloning of subunits for TFIIIC and TFIIIB. Particular emphasis is given to two components of TFIIIB, the TATA-binding protein and a protein with TFIIB homology (PCF4), since the properties of these molecules suggest a model whereby the polymerase specificity of transcription complexes is determined.