The synthesis of nanoporous membranes based on different concepts and materials is a field of active research. This review focuses on the synthesis strategies, mesophase evolution mechanisms and potential applications of mesoporous materials confined within anodic alumina membranes (AAM). Following a rapid evolution of synthetic techniques, a significant number of different mesoporous materials (e.g., silica, titania, and carbon) with highly regular structures can now be prepared within these membranes. In recent years, efforts have also been made to understand the formation mechanisms of these hierarchical mesophases. The resulting organized nanoporous membranes open up a wide range of potential applications in fields such as templating oriented nanowires and controlled separation and release of molecules. For example, while various synthesis strategies can be used for the preparation of membrane-embedded nanowires, the latter can also be obtained as isolated objects after dissolution of the alumina host matrix. The review also discusses issues such as control of structural defects or integrity of interfaces that should be addressed in future research in order to fully exploit the potential of these hierarchical mesoporous channel structures.