The ventral lateral geniculate nucleus (vLGN) and the intergeniculate leaflet (IGL) are retinorecipient subcortical nuclei. This paper attempts a comprehensive summary of research on these thalamic areas, drawing on anatomical, electrophysiological, and behavioral studies. From the current perspective, the vLGN and IGL appear closely linked, in that they share many neurochemicals, projections, and physiological properties. Neurochemicals commonly reported in the vLGN and IGL are neuropeptide Y, GABA, enkephalin, and nitric oxide synthase (localized in cells) and serotonin, acetylcholine, histamine, dopamine and noradrenalin (localized in fibers). Afferent and efferent connections are also similar, with both areas commonly receiving input from the retina, locus coreuleus, and raphe, having reciprocal connections with superior colliculus, pretectum and hypothalamus, and also showing connections to zona incerta, accessory optic system, pons, the contralateral vLGN/IGL, and other thalamic nuclei. Physiological studies indicate species differences, with spectral-sensitive responses common in some species, and varying populations of motion-sensitive units or units linked to optokinetic stimulation. A high percentage of IGL neurons show light intensity-coding responses. Behavioral studies suggest that the vLGN and IGL play a major role in mediating non-photic phase shifts of circadian rhythms, largely via neuropeptide Y, but may also play a role in photic phase shifts and in photoperiodic responses. The vLGN and IGL may participate in two major functional systems, those controlling visuomotor responses and those controlling circadian rhythms. Future research should be directed toward further integration of these diverse findings.