The initiation of DNA replication represents a committing step to cell proliferation. Appropriate replication onset depends on multiprotein complexes that help properly distinguish origin regions, generate nascent replication bubbles, and promote replisome formation. This review describes initiation systems employed by bacteria, archaea, and eukaryotes, with a focus on comparing and contrasting molecular mechanisms among organisms. Although commonalities can be found in the functional domains and strategies used to carry out and regulate initiation, many key participants have markedly different activities and appear to have evolved convergently. Despite significant advances in the field, major questions still persist in understanding how initiation programs are executed at the molecular level.