Nine Inch Nails has influenced many newer artists, which according to Reznor range from "generic imitations" dating from his initial success to younger bands echoing his style in a "truer, less imitative way". Following the release of The Downward Spiral, mainstream artists began to take notice of Nine Inch Nails' influence: David Bowie compared Reznor's impact to that of The Velvet Underground. Bob Ezrin, producer for Pink Floyd, Kiss, Alice Cooper, and Peter Gabriel, described Reznor in 2007 as a "true visionary" and advised aspiring artists to take note of his no-compromise attitude. Nine Inch Nails has been credited by music journalists for popularizing industrial music, despite ambivalence from Reznor.
The act has received four awards from 25 nominations, including two Grammy Awards for the songs "Wish" and "Happiness in Slavery" in 1993 and 1996 respectively. Nine Inch Nails have received two Kerrang! Awards; one of them being the Kerrang! Icon in 2006, honoring the band's overall contributions since 1988 and long-standing influence on rock music. The band has also received nine nominations from the MTV Video Music Awards for several of its videos, including two nominations for the "Closer" music video and five nominations for "The Perfect Drug" music video, including Video of the Year.
In 1997, Reznor appeared in Time magazine's list of the year's most influential people, and Spin described him as "the most vital artist in music". The Recording Industry Association of America certified sales for 10.5 million units of the band's albums in the United States, which accounted for roughly half of the band's reported sales worldwide at that time. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine placed The Downward Spiral at No. 200 in a 2003 list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and by the following year ranked Nine Inch Nails at No. 94 in their The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time list.