The effective engagement of cytotoxic lymphocytes (CLs) with their target cells is essential for the removal of virus-infected and malignant cells from the body. The spatiotemporal properties that define CL engagement and killing of target cells remain largely uncharacterized due to a lack of biological reporters. We have used a novel live cell microscopy technique to visualize the engagement of primary human and mouse CL with their targets and the subsequent delivery of the lethal hit. Extensive quantitative real-time analysis of individual effector-target cell conjugates demonstrated that a single effector calcium flux event was sufficient for the degranulation of human CLs, resulting in the breach of the target cell membrane by perforin within 65-100 s. In contrast, mouse CLs demonstrated distinct calcium signaling profiles leading to degranulation: whereas mouse NKs required a single calcium flux event, CD8(+) T cells typically required several calcium flux events before perforin delivery. Irrespective of their signaling profile, every target cell that was damaged by perforin died by apoptosis. To our knowledge, we demonstrate for the first time that perforin pore delivery is unidirectional, occurring exclusively on the target cell membrane, but sparing the killer cell. Despite this, the CTL membrane was not intrinsically perforin resistant, as intact CTLs presented as targets to effector CTLs were capable of being killed by perforin-dependent mechanisms. Our results highlight the remarkable efficiency and specificity of perforin pore delivery by CLs.