© 2021 The Author(s)The Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 brought the ecology and health of the Gulf of Mexico to the forefront of the public's and scientific community's attention. Not only did we need a better understanding of how this oil spill impacted the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, but we also needed to apply this knowledge to help assess impacts from perturbations in the region and guide future response actions. Phytoplankton represent the base of the food web in oceanic systems. As such, alterations of the phytoplankton community propagate to upper trophic levels. This review brings together new insights into the influence of oil and dispersant on phytoplankton. We bring together laboratory, mesocosm and field experiments, including insights into novel observations of harmful algal bloom (HAB) forming species and zooplankton as well as bacteria-phytoplankton interactions. We finish by addressing knowledge gaps and highlighting key topics for research in novel areas.