Despite considerable progress in recent years, the overall prognosis of metastatic malignant melanoma remains poor, and curative therapeutic options are lacking. Therefore, better understanding of molecular mechanisms underlying melanoma progression and metastasis, as well as identification of novel therapeutic targets that allow inhibition of metastatic spread, are urgently required. The current study provides evidence for aberrant cyclin-dependent kinase 5 (CDK5) activation in primary and metastatic melanoma lesions by overexpression of its activator protein CDK5R1/p35. Moreover, using melanoma in vitro model systems, shRNA-mediated inducible knockdown of CDK5 was found to cause marked inhibition of cell motility, invasiveness, and anchorage-independent growth, while at the same time net cell growth was not affected. In vivo, CDK5 knockdown inhibited growth of orthotopic xenografts as well as formation of lung and liver colonies in xenogenic injection models mimicking systemic metastases. Inhibition of lung metastasis was further validated in a syngenic murine melanoma model. CDK5 knockdown was accompanied by dephosphorylation and overexpression of caldesmon, and concomitant caldesmon knockdown rescued cell motility and proinvasive phenotype. Finally, it was found that pharmacological inhibition of CDK5 activity by means of roscovitine as well as by a novel small molecule CDK5-inhibitor, N-(5-isopropylthiazol-2-yl)-3-phenylpropanamide, similarly caused marked inhibition of invasion/migration, colony formation, and anchorage-independent growth of melanoma cells. Thus, experimental data presented here provide strong evidence for a crucial role of aberrantly activated CDK5 in melanoma progression and metastasis and establish CDK5 as promising target for therapeutic intervention.