The retina, an immune privileged tissue, has specialized immune defense mechanisms against noxious insults that may exist in diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic retinopathy (DR), uveoretinitis and glaucoma. The defense system consists of retinal innate immune cells (including microglia, perivascular macrophages, and a small population of dendritic cells) and the complement system. Under normal aging conditions, retinal innate immune cells and the complement system undergo a low-grade activation (parainflammation) which is important for retinal homeostasis. In disease states such as AMD and DR, the parainflammatory response is dysregulated and develops into detrimental chronic inflammation. Complement activation in the retina is an important part of chronic inflammation and may contribute to retinal pathology in these disease states. Here, we review the evidence that supports the role of uncontrolled or dysregulated complement activation in various retinal degenerative and angiogenic conditions. We also discuss current strategies that are used to develop complement-based therapies for retinal diseases such as AMD. The potential benefits of complement inhibition in DR, uveoretinitis and glaucoma are also discussed, as well as the need for further research to better understand the mechanisms of complement-mediated retinal damage in these disease states.