Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is increasingly being used to support adults with severe forms of respiratory failure. Fueling the explosive growth is a combination of technological improvements and accumulating, although controversial, evidence. Current use of ECMO extends beyond its most familiar role in the support of patients with severe acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) to treat patients with various forms of severe hypoxemic or hypercapnic respiratory failure, ranging from bridging patients to lung transplantation to managing pulmonary hypertensive crises.The role of ECMO used primarily for extracorporeal carbon dioxide removal (ECCO2R) in the support of patients with hypercapnic respiratory failure and less severe forms of ARDS is also evolving. Select patients with respiratory failure may be liberated from invasive mechanical ventilation altogether and some may undergo extensive physical therapy while receiving extracorporeal support. Current research may yield a true artificial lung with the potential to change the paradigm of treatment for adults with chronic respiratory failure.