Macrophage accumulation within the vascular wall is a hallmark of atherosclerosis. In atherosclerotic lesions, macrophages respond to various environmental stimuli, such as modified lipids, cytokines, and senescent erythrocytes, which can modify their functional phenotypes. The results of studies on human atherosclerotic plaques demonstrate that the relative proportions of macrophage subsets within a plaque might be a better indicator of plaque phenotype and stability than the total number of macrophages. Understanding the function of specific macrophage subsets and their contribution to the composition and growth of atherosclerotic plaques would aid the identification of novel strategies to delay or halt the development of the disease and its associated pathophysiological consequences. However, most studies aimed at characterizing the phenotypes of human macrophages are performed in vitro and, therefore, their functional relevance to human pathology remains uncertain. In this Review, the diverse range of macrophage phenotypes in atherosclerotic lesions and their potential roles in both plaque progression and stability are discussed, with an emphasis on human pathology.