Work spanning almost two decades using the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, to study tau-mediated neurodegeneration has provided valuable and novel insights into the causes and mechanisms of tau-mediated toxicity and dysfunction in tauopathies such as Alzheimer's disease (AD). The fly has proven to be an excellent model for human diseases because of its cost efficiency, and the availability of powerful genetic tools for use in a comparatively less-complicated, but evolutionarily conserved, in vivo system. In this review, we provide a critical evaluation of the insights provided by fly models, highlighting both the advantages and limitations of the system. The fly has contributed to a greater understanding of the causes of tau abnormalities, the role of these abnormalities in mediating toxicity and/or dysfunction, and the nature of causative species mediating tau-toxicity. However, it is not possible to perfectly model all aspects of human degenerative diseases. What sets the fly apart from other animal models is its genetic tractability, which makes it highly amenable to overcoming experimental limitations. The explosion of genetic technology since the first fly disease models were established has translated into fly lines that allow for greater temporal control in restricting tau expression to single neuron types, and lines that can label and monitor the function of subcellular structures and components; thus, fly models offer an unprecedented view of the neurodegenerative process. Emerging genetic technology means that the fly provides an ever-evolving experimental platform for studying disease.