Background Patients with anaplastic lymphoma kinase rearranged (ALK+) non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) have a higher risk of developing brain metastases (BMs) than patients with other NSCLC sub-types. ALK inhibitors have activity in BMs due to ALK+ NSCLC. We performed a systematic review of the literature with the aim of assessing the efficacy of ALK inhibitors on BMs. Material and methods A systematic search of the literature was performed using the databases Pubmed, EMBASE, Web of Science, The Cochrane Library, and SCOPUS. Relevant publications reporting activity of ALK inhibitors in NSCLC BMs were retrieved. Data were pooled using the number of events/number of evaluable patients according to fixed or random effect models. Intracranial tumour response was assessed through overall response rate (ORR), disease control rate (DCR: ORR + stable disease rate), median progression-free survival (PFS), and overall survival (OS). The primary endpoint was intracranial overall response rate (IC ORR). Results A total of 1,016 patients with BMs from 21 studies were analysed. In patients receiving ALK inhibitors in the first line setting, the pooled IC ORR was 39.17% (95%CI 13.1–65.2%), while the pooled IC ORR observed in further lines was 44.2% (95%CI 33.3–55.1%). Intracranial disease control rate (IC DCR) was 70.3% and 78.2% in naïve and pre-treated patients, respectively. Patients who had not received brain radiation attained an IC ORR of 49.0%. Conclusions Based on these data, ALK inhibitors are effective in both naive and pre-treated patients with similar IC ORR and IC DCR, irrespective of the line of therapy. © 2018 Petrelli et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.