Immune ‘checkpoint’ inhibitors can increase the activity of tumor-resident cytotoxic lymphocytes and have revolutionized cancer treatment. Current therapies block inhibitory pathways in tumor-infiltrating CD8+ T cells and recent studies have shown similar programs in other effector populations such as natural killer (NK) cells. NK cells are critical for immunosurveillance, particularly the control of metastatic cells or hematological cancers. However, how NK cells specifically recognize transformed cells and dominant negative feedback pathways, as well as how tumors escape NK cell control, remains undefined. This review summarizes recent advances that have illuminated inhibitory checkpoints in NK cells, some of which are shared with conventional cytotoxic T lymphocytes. It also outlines emerging approaches aimed at unleashing the potential of NK cells in immunotherapy.