Although advances in genomics during the last decade have opened new avenues for translational research and allowed the direct evaluation of clinical samples, there is still a need for reliable preclinical models to test therapeutic strategies. Human cancer-derived cell lines are the most widely used models to study the biology of cancer and to test hypotheses to improve the efficacy of cancer treatment. Since the development of the first cancer cell line, the clinical relevance of these models has been continuously questioned. Based upon recent studies that have fueled the debate, we review the major events in the development of the in vitro models and the emergence of new technologies that have revealed important issues and limitations concerning human cancer cell lines as models. All cancer cell lines do not have equal value as tumor models. Some have been successful, whereas others have failed. However, the success stories should not obscure the growing body of data that motivates us to develop new in vitro preclinical models that would substantially increase the success rate of new in vitro-assessed cancer treatments.