Cytoplasmic dyneins, the principal microtubule minus-end-directed motor proteins of the cell, are involved in many essential cellular processes. The major form of this enzyme is a complex of at least six protein subunits, and in mammals all but one of the subunits are encoded by at least two genes. Here we review current knowledge concerning the subunits, their interactions, and their functional roles as derived from biochemical and genetic analyses. We also carried out extensive database searches to look for new genes and to clarify anomalies in the databases. Our analysis documents evolutionary relationships among the dynein subunits of mammals and other model organisms, and sheds new light on the role of this diverse group of proteins, highlighting the existence of two cytoplasmic dynein complexes with distinct cellular roles.