Thrombolytic therapy significantly improves the natural history of acute myocardial infarction, but recent data suggest that current reperfusion strategies have yet to realize the maximum potential for reduction of mortality and salvage of ventricular function. Coronary patency rates as high as 85% assessed by angiography 90 minutes after initiation of treatment greatly overestimate the efficacy of thrombolytic regimens, as this conventional angiographic "snapshot" view does not satisfactorily reflect the dynamic processes of coronary artery recanalization and reocclusion or the adequacy of myocardial perfusion. In fact, only the unusual patient appears to achieve optimal reperfusion for acute myocardial infarction, with a substantial deterioration of benefit in many patients due to insufficiently early or rapid recanalization, incomplete patency with TIMI grade 2 flow or critical residual coronary stenoses, absence of myocardial tissue reflow despite epicardial artery patency, intermittent coronary patency, subsequent reocclusion, or reperfusion injury. Recently developed techniques to critically assess the quality of reperfusion, coupled with the introduction of novel pharmacological agents and an improved understanding of the roles and mechanisms of existing thrombolytic and adjunctive drugs, have provided the opportunity to overcome many of the present limitations of reperfusion therapy. Emerging strategies to achieve optimal reperfusion are directed at enhancement of the velocity and quality of thrombolysis, amelioration of the adverse effects of reperfusion, and use of alternative pathways to myocardial salvage.