Major advances have occurred in recent years in our understanding of HIV-1 assembly, release and maturation, as work in this field has been propelled forwards by developments in imaging technology, structural biology, and cell and molecular biology. This increase in basic knowledge is being applied to the development of novel inhibitors designed to target various aspects of virus assembly and maturation. This Review highlights recent progress in elucidating the late stages of the HIV-1 replication cycle and the related interplay between virology, cell and molecular biology, and drug discovery.