MacGuffin

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A MacGuffin, every one of them [1]

"In crook stories it is almost always the necklace,

and in spy stories it is most always the papers."

MacGuffin (a.k.a. McGuffin or maguffin) is a term for a motivating element in a story that is used to drive the plot. It actually serves no further purpose. It won't pop up again later, it won't explain the ending, it won't actually do anything except possibly distract you while you try to figure out its significance. In some cases, it won't even be shown. It is usually a mysterious package/artifact/superweapon that everyone in the story is chasing.

To determine if a thing is a MacGuffin, check to see if it is interchangeable. For example, in a caper story the MacGuffin could be either the Mona Lisa or the Hope diamond, it makes no difference which. The rest of the story (i.e. it being stolen) would be exactly the same. It doesn't matter which it is, it is only necessary for the characters to want it.

A common MacGuffin story setup can be summarized as "Quickly! We must find X before they do!".

The term was popularized by Alfred Hitchcock, who actually credited one of his screenwriters, Angus McPhail, with the creation of this concept and the name for it, citing a particular school-boy joke:

A man is riding on a train when a second gentleman gets on and sits down across from him. The first man notices the second is holding an oddly shaped package.
"What is that?" the first man asks.
"A MacGuffin, a tool used to hunt lions in the Scottish highlands."
"But there are no lions in the Scottish highlands," says the first man.
"Well then," says the other, "That's no MacGuffin".

Hitchcock and Angus McPhail were not the first to formulate this concept. Silent-film actress Pearl White starred in cliffhanger serials (most famously "The Perils of Pauline") in which the characters spent most of their screen time chasing each other for possession of a roll of film, or some other doodad. This device occurred so often in Pearl White's serial films that she routinely referred to the coveted object as a "weenie", using the term precisely as Hitchcock would later use "MacGuffin".

In academic circles this is sometimes called the Golden Fleece, after the artifact from the myth of Jason and the Argonauts. The Fleece was first mentioned by the Greek poet Simonides, which makes this trope Older Than Feudalism.

Compare Magnetic Plot Device. Contrast Mock Guffin, for when an object that isn't really a MacGuffin is mistaken for one. If it's more than just a something to keep the plot moving, it's probably a Chekhov's Gun. (Though that only counts if it's initially introduced as being unimportant.)

If you want to start arguing that your favourite series most awesome magical thing isn't a MacGuffin, remember that Tropes Are Tools. Having a MacGuffin is not necessarily bad writing, depending on how it's handled. Sometimes, it can even enhance the work!

MacGuffin sub-tropes:

  • Artifact of Attraction: If the object itself is inherently irresistible.
  • Clingy MacGuffin: Inversion of this trope—its most important attribute is that the person who has it wants to be rid of it.
  • Dismantled MacGuffin: The MacGuffin is split into several parts and hidden in different places. Plot coupons are most often this type of MacGuffin.
  • Egg MacGuffin: A Macguffin that is an egg.
  • Free Sample Plot Coupon: The first MacGuffin is given or found with zero effort, compared to subsequent ones.
  • Going to See the Elephant: Taking a trip with no serious purpose. The reason for the trip may be a MacGuffin or may not.
  • Hostage for Macguffin: The heroes have the MacGuffin. The Villain has a hostage and wants the MacGuffin. Trade ya?
  • I'm Dying, Please Take My MacGuffin: A character has the MacGuffin. (S)he dies after giving the MacGuffin to another character (usually the heroes) and asking them to take care of it.
  • Just Eat the MacGuffin: The MacGuffin is a lot more trouble than it is worth, and may as well just be destroyed.
  • Living MacGuffin: A living being, free (or at least in no danger), who serves as the MacGuffin.
  • A MacGuffin Full of Money: The MacGuffin is simply a large amount of cash.
  • MacGuffin Delivery Service: The good guys get the MacGuffin, just in time for the bad guys to steal it from them. Bad guys win! (Temporarily.)
  • MacGuffin Escort Mission: The good guys get the MacGuffin early on. The rest of the story is about them transporting it somewhere else without losing it.
  • MacGuffin Girl: The MacGuffin is transformed into a living being (usually a girl).
  • MacGuffin Guardian: The monster that guards the MacGuffin.
  • MacGuffin Location: The MacGuffin isn't a thing or a person, it's a place.
  • MacGuffin Melee: When multiple groups searching for the MacGuffin find it at the same time and a fight breaks out.
  • MacGuffin Title: The MacGuffin is right there in the title of the work.
  • MacMuffin: the MacGuffin has been replaced with something unexpected or comical
  • Memento MacGuffin: A MacGuffin that holds sentimental value to one or more characters.
  • Mineral MacGuffin: A gem, a jewel, or a rock of some type that holds great power; in spite of the name, may or may not be an actual MacGuffin.
  • No MacGuffin, No Winner: Neither side has the MacGuffin in the end. It's been destroyed, lost, or discovered to be fake.
  • Pirate Booty: Older than the Briefcase Full of Money, and even more likely to be stolen.
  • Plot Coupon: A common manifestation in video games, an item that the player must acquire to advance the plot, but serves no other gameplay purpose.
  • The President's Daughter: The MacGuffin is a living person, and is in danger, held captive or being actively hunted. Contrast with Living MacGuffin.
  • Ransacked Room: What the bad guys do when they suspect the good guys already have the MacGuffin. May also include ransacked luggage, tearing up the grounds, or even destroying a room or building.
  • Sound Stone: The MacGuffin is a sound rather than a thing, or a thing that must be used to produce the sound.
  • Stolen MacGuffin Reveal: The MacGuffin was actually a fake, or stolen before the thief got it.
  • Timeline-Altering MacGuffin: An otherwise unimportant item from the future that, if left in the past during time travel, will have serious consequences.


See also It's the Journey That Counts, Your Princess Is in Another Castle, All That Glitters, Chekhov's Gun and Magic Feather.

As you might have guessed from the sheer number of sub-tropes, this is a very common Trope in fiction. So common, in fact, that it has its own page on The Other Wiki.

Do not confuse with Plot Device. Please, don't.

Examples of MacGuffin include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Princess Mononoke has two MacGuffins. One is the curse on the main character's arm (a Clingy MacGuffin) which he is trying to remove before he died from the infection, and the other is the Forest Spirit's head, said to grant eternal life to those who own it. Despite both playing prominent roles neither has any functional impact until their relative plots are resolved at the end.
  • The Imperial Seal and the Dragon Jade from Ikki Tousen.
  • Every single episode of GetBackers revolves around one of these. Somewhat justified, as the characters retrieve, transport, protect, etc. things for a living.
  • In One Piece, the titular treasure is a MacGuffin; nobody knows exactly what it is, but everyone wants to get their hands on it. This is even more evident in the earlier drafts for the manga called "Romance Dawn", where there was no mention of One Piece, and Luffy was a pirate just for the hell of it.
    • Recently it has been hinted that some living (and recently living) characters know what it is and that when it is discovered it could possibly alter the entire world, though at this point it still qualifies as a MacGuffin.
  • The Crystal Flowers from Petite Princess Yucie, giving the Platinum Princess candidates an excuse to visit each other's worlds.
  • In Piano, Miu's self-composed piano piece is the MacGuffin. Theoretically, the entire series is built around it. In actuality, it takes a back seat to the "slice of life" drama that makes up the story. The audience only really gets to hear it in the first episode, and even then, it's just an extract. The series finishes just as Miu walks on stage to perform it, a source of snarling frustration if the viewer's been wondering just what the heck she's been working on all this time. Still, at least no-one tried to kill her to get their hands on it.
  • In Pokémon the entire Orange League episodes are caused by Ash trying to get the mysterious GS Ball to a Pokeball expert named Kurt. No one knows what's in it. By the end of the Johto League episodes, it's just forgotten. In the games, the GS Ball contained Celebi. However, Celebi has appeared in the anime/movies since then, with no known connection to the GS Ball. One wonders that if they wanted to know what was in the GS Ball, why they didn't just throw it.
    • Apparently that wouldn't work. They tried throwing it, using a crowbar, electric saws, and a laser. Nothing worked, and it was completely forgotten about later. Chances are, not even the producers really knew what the hell was in it.
    • The GS Ball in the Anime was supposed to be exactly like how it was in the games, but the producers decided to use Celebi for the movies, so when they had Ash give the ball to Kurt, the producers left that subplot unsolved in hopes that the audience would forget about it. They didn't.
  • Definitely true with the Key of the Twilight in .hack//SIGN Everyone chases after it for the entire series, and yet no one has the slightest idea what it's supposed to be, often questioning its existence, what it is, what it's supposed to do, and why they're chasing after it. Some viewers are still confused about what it's supposed to be.
    • It's commonly accepted to be Aura
  • In Tokyo Godfathers by Satoshi Kon the baby, Kiyoko, found by the titular homeless people rests between this and Magnetic Plot Device to the point where the characters start considering the baby to be blessed. Also she is technically a MacGuffin Girl.
  • In a certain episode of Lupin III in which Goemon and Lupin are both trying to get an ancient document from police headquarters, which turns out to be the laws and regulations guide of Japanese policemen...circa 1885 or so, and another such episode where Goemon is up against his former rival-what-killed-his-master, searching for a secret scroll with the final technique. Turns out the scroll is blank and on top of that, the scroll is another one of those Be Yourself metaphor things. Considering the nature of this show, there's probably more.
    • The series played with it at one point - Lupin is captured by a Rich Idiot With No Day Job and strapped with a bomb; the guy takes Fujiko hostage as well and sends Lupin to steal a file from the police. The file is the rap sheet for a minor criminal, and none of the heroes can work out why he'd want that. Turns out the rich guy is the criminal, with serious plastic surgery.
    • Barring a scant handful, every... single... movie revolves around a MacGuffin, which is inevitably lost by the end.
  • In Windy Tales, the wind manipulation powers are used mostly as a backdrop for the more Slice of Life nature of the tales in the title.
  • The collection of "hanamaru" in Magical Play is mainly used to give the three main characters a reason to hang out with each other.
  • The titular Dragonballs in Dragon Ball were originally just an instigator for the story. Goku admitted at the very beginning that he had no plans for a wish and just wanted to see a cool dragon. Bulma was planning to wish for a boyfriend, while Yamcha was going to get rid of his fear of women. The very first wish ended up being just a gag... a pair of woman's panties by Oolong, done to keep Pilaf from using the dragon to conquer the world. Bulma and Yamcha fall in love, not having needed the wishes after all. The second Dragonball hunt was also just Goku looking for his Grandfather's 4-star Dragonball. The necessity to make a specific wish only became important when Tao Pai Pai killed a newfound friend of Goku's while searching for the Dragonballs.
    • As the story progressed nearly every Big Bad had their plans for the Dragonballs (most wanted to be immortal) but even then the Dragonballs could be replaced with a credit card and the story could still mostly be told, except without a handy Reset Button. It wasn't until GT that the Dragonballs themselves became a danger to the characters.
    • The Dragonballs actually stopped being a Mac Gruffin partway through the Freiza saga, when they were used to bring back Piccolo. After that, they simply became the series' reset button, the gathering of which was completely glossed over (the characters had become too powerful to *not* just fly to where the Dragonballs were and pick them up).
  • The flashy, expensive sneakers are the primary (and possibly only) motivators for Kirenenko in Usavich.
  • The anime version of World Destruction is about the World Destruction Committee, who spend the entire series carrying around an orb capable of destroying the world. (Only one of them is capable of using it, however, and he has no desire to destroy the world.)
  • One of Osamu Tezuka's numerous completely fabricated diseases in Black Jack is a disease called 'MacGuffin Syndrome', said to be incurable (or, at least, impossible to heal without a lot of stamina). It was first mentioned as the disease that a character suffers from... take a wild guess at what it's used for.
  • The demon tool Brew in Soul Eater. Originally sought out by Shibusen for no clear purpose other than to avoid the other guys getting their hands on it, it was used as a bargaining chip by Medusa. She tricked Arachne into thinking she had the real thing, and gave Brew itself to Shinigami in exchange for information and a deal to bring down Arachnaphobia. The one occasion the MacGuffin tool itself does something significant, is in a Chekov's Gun-like moment during the Baba Yaga arc. Its soul amplification ability saves Death the Kid's life. And his left arm. Now placed in Noah's book, it may well turn up again to...be passed around by the cast once more.
  • In a sidestory in the Fruits Basket manga, Akito's mother, Ren, and Akito manipulate various people in their family over the posession of a box left behind by Akito's father, Akira. When the box is opened, it's empty. Akito's caretakers said Akira's soul was in the box, but Akito had long since stopped believing that and just used the mystery surrounding the box to jerk Ren around.
  • The Shinzaho in Fushigi Yuugi (Takiko's necklace, Suzuno's mirror, Yui's earring, and Miaka's unborn child). Used to summon The Four Gods, especially if (for some reason) the summoning ceremony can't be performed normally. Half the plot is therefore the search for them.
  • The Dokuro Stones from Yatterman would definitely apply.
  • The Eto Gun from Et Cetera. Very nearly EVERYONE Ming Chao meets is after it.
  • Celty's head in Durarara!! is a MacGuffin that falls in and out of focus, as no one who has it knows quite what to do with it, and Celty herself isn't sure she wants it.
  • Protoculture from Robotech. It's the mysterious energy source that drives Robotechnology. But in terms of storytelling, it exists mostly to tie together the three component anime series Macross, Southern Cross, and Mospeada. in the original series, all the mecha and ships were powered by your run of the mill nuclear fusion.

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire has "The Winslow", a furry alligator-like talking creature that "figures in easily three quarters of the Galaxy's known religions"... in every possible role. So, naturally, the moment its location is revealed, just about every alien race gets into a holy war at the same time. The Winslow's purpose is to be a Shaped Like Itself MacGuffin. A secondary purpose and/or effect of its primary purpose is to confuse the hell out of everyone. Uligb are among the few who also ascribe to The Winslow great importance, but realize that the farther you keep from such things, the healthier you are likely to remain. Of course, they also perceive thirteen and half dimensions... and like popsicles.
  • Lampshade Hanging in the Tenchi Muyo! comic by Pioneer, in which Sasami has a special delivered package from Jyurai, which turns out to be Macguffins, light and tasty delicacies that resemble muffins. In fact, they're so good "why else would people chase after them?"
  • The Secret Six ongoing kicked off with an arc centering around a rather interesting MacGuffin: a get out of Hell free card.
  • In an issue of Jon Sable Freelance, Jon is hired to retrieve a stolen formula (codenamed 7X) in a sealed envelope, with strict instructions that the envelope is not to be opened. Jon succeeds and returns the formula to its owners. Although he didn't open the envelope, he comments that when it got wet the envelope went transparent and he could read the list of ingredients and there isn't anything there that cannot be bought at a corner drug store. The executives comment that the point is that no one else knows that and burn the envelope. 7X turns out to be the formula for Coca-Cola.
  • The Arumbayan statue in The Broken Ear (the Real Life artifact Herge based it on belongs to the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels).
  • The albatross in Cerebus.
  • The Exploding Nanites in the Thunderbolts' blood that keep the Boxed Crooks contained are referred to as a MacGuffin by Bullseye in #125.
  • The lump of bombastium in Carl Barks's "A Cold Bargain": an Idiot Ball and MacGuffin rolled into one, made of pure Unobtainium. No-one knows what it does, but since it's so rare that the substance isn't found anywhere else outside that one lump, and because they don't actually know it doesn't do something amazing, everyone wants it. Scrooge McDuck bids an enormous sum on it on impulse and then has to go to great lengths to maintain the possibly useless lump's existence. In the end, it turns out it can be used to make loads and loads of ice cream, which does make the deal profitable.
  • In the second issue of the comic book adaptation of Sonic X, Sonic and friends investigate a sunken ship owned by the long-dead pirate "Captain Seamus "Red-Eye" MacGuffin", and later outright call the ship "The MacGuffin". Subtle, it is not.
  • The Sin City story Big Fat Kill has a squicky example of a MacGuffin: a severed head. It Makes Sense in Context.

Film[edit | hide]

  • The quintessential MacGuffin is The Maltese Falcon. It gets the characters together, pits them against each other, but turns out to be worthless.
  • "The Rembrandt Letters" in The Silver Streak.
  • The identity of "Rosebud" in Citizen Kane. It Was His Sled.
  • The Travel Visas in Casablanca.
  • The perfect Alfred Hitchcock example is the "government secrets" that motivate the action in North by Northwest (1959).
    • Also the man the hero is mistaken for, especially when it's revealed he doesn't really exist.
    • One of Alfred Hitchcock's earliest examples of a MacGuffin is the uranium sand that Claude Rains was smuggling in wine bottles in Notorious ("A vintage sand" is what Cary Grant called it). When studio execs told Hitchcock that movie audiences wouldn't understand why the uranium sand was so important, Hitchcock answered, "Then we'll make it uncut industrial diamonds. It doesn't matter what it is, as long as the villains want it. That's the MacGuffin, that's the motor that drive the plot."
  • The Green Destiny sword in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a classical MacGuffin. While it does see a lot of combat and is a very good sword, it's value is mostly ideological. It doesn't have any special abilities except of withstanding considerable abuse and being perfectly crafted.
  • Titanic (1997) is framed around the search for a diamond called Le Cœur de la Mer (The Heart of the Sea/Ocean), which is quickly forgotten until the end of the story, when its owner throws it overboard so no one can have it.
  • The stolen money in Psycho. In reality, everything about the plot becomes irrelevant at the half-way point.
  • Pulp Fiction's suitcase, perhaps the biggest go-to example of recent times. The mysterious glowing contents are an homage to the 1955 movie Kiss Me Deadly, whose suitcase originally housed a superweapon -- a nuclear device. Fans speculated that its Pulp Fiction counterpart held Marcellus' soul. Tarantino called a MacGuffin a MacGuffin, and has made it very clear that he neither knows nor cares what was in the case.
    • To paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson, the case contained a couple of heavy-ass batteries and some lights.
  • The silver case in Ronin. In fact, the film's final scene goes slightly out of its way not to reveal what's inside it.
  • The stoner-flick Dude, Where's My Car? has two; first, the titular car, which serves primarily as a plot device to lead our half-baked heroes into zany misadventure after zany misadventure, and second, the Continuum Transfunctioner, a very mysterious and powerful device (It's mystery is only exceeded by its power.) being covertly fought over by two different alien races (which represent themselves as hot chicks and creepy Germans, respectively), a fight that the protagonists slowly find themselves caught in the middle of.
  • Mission Impossible III features Ethan Hunt trying to keep a nasty weapons dealer from acquiring "The Rabbit's Foot", a small cylindrical kajigger that's assumed to contain some sort of biological weapon (though it's never explicitly stated as such). At the very end of the film, as Hunt leaves to enjoy his honeymoon, he asks his boss just what "The Rabbit's Foot" was, but his boss says he'll only tell him if he stays with the IMF. They all have a good laugh about it, and the movie ends. Shockingly some film reviewers (professional critics!) expressed outrage that they didn't get to find out what the all-important item was, suggesting unfamiliarity with the trope.
    • An especially good example, since the Rabbit's Foot could be anything from a Doomsday Device to Davian's favorite candy bar.
    • The first film also had a disc as the primary MacGuffin, though it was clearly defined as being a list of undercover IMF agents. The Rabbit's Foot is a parody of the standard MacGuffin; even the hero doesn't know what it is.
    • The screenplay did actually explain what the Rabbit's Foot was; apparently it was a particularly nasty and near-unstoppable bioweapon. This detail didn't make it to the final movie however, for various reasons - firstly, Mission: Impossible II had already done the bioweapon plot, secondly it was felt to be too much of an obvious explanation to what The Rabbit's Foot was, and thirdly J.J. Abrams thought it'd make things more interesting by turning the Rabbit's Foot into an outright MacGuffin (Your Mileage May Vary on whether this was better than just having it as a bioweapon).
  • In Cast Away, the one box that Tom Hanks never opens, even delivers at the end. We never know what was in it. However, in an Easter Egg on the DVD, it reveals a press conference by the director who, when asked what was in the box, said it was a solar powered satellite phone (possibly not seriously).
  • The title train of 3:10 to Yuma is a classic MacGuffin.
  • The Spanish Prisoner revolves around a secret and valuable industrial "Process" its protagonist has invented.
  • Each Indiana Jones film involves the search for a MacGuffin: the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark; the Sankara stones in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom; the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade; the Crystal Skull in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. George Lucas and Harrison Ford has even said that the items are MacGuffins, the stories could be told with almost anything else in its place.
  • When the screenplay for Good Will Hunting was published as a book, director Gus Van Sant wrote a preface in which he admitted that Will's math talents were a MacGuffin: he doesn't solve a math problem the details of whose solution affect the plot (otherwise, the movie would be more a science-fiction story about the invention of fusion power, or whatever).
    • Another Gus Van Sant example is Mike's mother in My Own Private Idaho - the driving force for the plot is him trying to find his long-lost mother, but in the end he never does, even though he goes as far as Italy to find that she's just left. No MacGuffin, No Winner perhaps?
  • For that matter, there's the titular proof in Proof. What it is doesn't matter, only whether Anthony Hopkins or his daughter Gwyneth Paltrow was the one who proved it.
  • Escape from New York: the tape with the secret of nuclear fusion.
  • In Mel Brooks' High Anxiety, which contains parodies of numerous Hitchcock films, the lead character (who is terrified of heights) is checking into a hotel when the receptionist informs him that though the hotel had reserved him a lower-level floor, "a Mr. MacGuffin called and requested we change it to the 17th floor." Though MacGuffin is probably a reference to the villains stalking the main character, the name is never mentioned again.
  • It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is based around a bunch of fools trying to locate and claim a hidden stash of $350,000.
    • That's $2.62 million dollars in 2010, by the way.
  • Lampshaded in The Departed: "Our target: microprocessors. Yes, those. I don't know what they are, you don't know what they are, who gives a fuck?"
  • Done for humor in the Beatles' movie Help!. Ringo is given the ring of the goddess Kaili, which he can't get off and which various villains and bad guys are trying to get. One Mad Scientist comes out with the classic MacGuffin line: "With a ring like that, I could--dare I say it?--rule the world!!"
  • Wonder Woman (1974). A list of U.S. undercover agents stolen by the Big Bad and put up for sale to the highest bidder.
  • In the 1979 film The Double McGuffin (narrated by Orson Welles), a group of precocious children (including Lisa Whelchel) find a briefcase full of cash and run afoul of Ernie Borgnine and Lyle Alzado.
  • The "Beaugard" painting in Animal Crackers.
  • The gold in The Italian Job.
    • Less so in the remake, if we go by the 'only counts if it's not spent' rule. Much is made about how various character plan to/do spend it.
  • Raising the money to pay the orphanage's debts in The Blues Brothers
  • Three James Bond movies have these. They are the ATAC transmitter from For Your Eyes Only and, to a lesser extent, the GPS encoder from Tomorrow Never Dies. There's also the Lector Encoder in From Russia with Love, which only exists to get James Bond to Istanbul.
  • In Road To Rio, there are the mysterious Papers that have no bearing on the plot besides having an interesting safe-cracking scene. Lampshaded when Bob Hope and Bing Crosby say that "the world must never know" their contents. At the end, when the papers have been recovered and they're about to be read, they get torn up instead, since they've served their dramatic purpose.
  • The jailbreak in Down By Law. We never find out how they got out, and it doesn't matter, because the movie is more concerned with the relationships between the characters (see also Noodle Implements).
  • Nuclear testing in Beginning of the End, Earth vs. The Spider, The Deadly Mantis, and many other monster movies. The bomb's only purpose is to create monsters. Movies like Them and Godzilla don't count, though, because they really are about the bomb.
  • James Cameron's Avatar. The Unobtanium actually has a legitimate purpose, as it is supposed to help make interstellar travel more practical. But since the movie isn't about the actual travel process, it honestly doesn't matter. It could just have been fruit that makes a better eyeglass polish.
  • The buried Confederate gold in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
  • Guy Ritchie films tend to feature good examples - standard formula is several factions of gangsters colliding as they try to get their hands on... something. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels has two antique guns and a stash of weed; Snatch has a giant diamond; and Lock, Stock The Series had Idiosyncratic Episode Naming along the lines of "Lock, Stock And [The MacGuffin]".
  • What's Up, Tiger Lily? has several factions out to kill to possess the perfect egg salad recipe, stolen from a potentate who tells our hero "It is written that he who makes the best egg salad shall rule over heaven and earth. Don't ask me why egg salad, I have enough aggravation."
  • The pyramid in Despicable Me.
  • The titular artifact in Romancing the Stone.
    • Subverted in the sequel The Jewel of the Nile," which turns out not to be a jewel at all.
  • The 1964 Chevy Malibu in Repo Man.
  • The Mielofon, a device that can read the mind of any life form, in Guest From the Future.
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail. You could switch the Grail for an Ostrich Egg and the plot would not have been affected. You never even really SEE the Grail, just a Grail-shaped beacon! Bad Zoot.
  • The neutrinos in 2012 (it's mostly unintentional due to bad writing); not only do the planet's neutrinos "mutate and heat up the earth" and lead to "the end of the world", they never get another mention or fixed yet everything works out.
  • The papers in Mystery Team.
  • The Ford GT 40 in Fast Five. Also doubles as a Cool Car.
  • The Galaxy on Orion's belt in Men in Black. It's a miniaturized galaxy disguised as the belt-charm on the dead jeweler's cat, which is named Orion.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • The Dark Tower itself is one.
  • Isaac Asimov's Black Widower mystery stories have the out of print books in "Sunset on the Water", a lucky coin in "The Lucky Piece", and the data in "The Alibi". The data is a somewhat lampshaded MacGuffin, as the government agent telling the story points out that the details are unimportant, but still secret.
  • Lampshaded in the David Bischoff novel Star Fall, in which the protagonist transfers bodies for a vacation. Unwittingly, he ends up with an illegally modified artificial body capable of all sorts of sci-fi/007 skullduggery, which any number of elements are after. The type of illegal artificial body he is inhabiting is called, you guessed it, a MacGuffin.
  • The sole purpose of Angus Mcguffin in Jasper Fforde's The Fourth Bear.
  • Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov's vast fortune in The Brothers Karamazov is said to exist, but even the narrator casts aspersions as to how much money he really has, if any. The sons' owed inheritance is the MacGuffin which gets the plot moving in the beginning, but it is only brought up past the middle of the book in passing. The argument could also be made that the sub-plot involving the schoolboys, which is almost entirely unrelated to the main events of the novel, is a MacGuffin to explore some other themes of spirituality.
  • Anthony Horowitz parodied The Maltese Falcon and North by Northwest, the second and third books in his Diamond Brothers series, The Falcon's Maltesers and South by South East, the latter of which had the plot kicked off by a character called MacGuffin.
  • Lampshaded in Walking On Glass by Iain Banks. At the end of Steven's story, Steven finds a box of McGuffin's Zen Brand matches, on the back of which is written the answer to Quiss and Ajayi's riddle. Quiss and Ajayi have forfeited all future attempts to answer the riddle, because Quiss has destroyed the Game Table, but we know that their current attempt, earned by completing a game of "Tunnel", will be correct because Ajayi finds a copy of Walking On Glass in the remains of the Game Table.
  • The plot of the classic satirical novel The Twelve Chairs by Ilf and Petrov revolves around a treasure hidden in a chair. By the time the main characters find it, the treasure is long gone
  • In The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse by Robert Rankin, the main characters find and use a vital object called 'The Maguffin'.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events features a mysterious sugar bowl (a.k.a. the Vessel For Disaccharides) that everyone is looking for. In the last volume, they don't find it. It is implied to possibly contain horseradish, which is a cure for Medusoid Mycellium .
  • The Queen's diamond studs in The Three Musketeers.
    • One of Simon Hawke's Time Wars books plays out around the plot of The Three Musketeers, and the villain replaces the diamond studs with future-tech explosives, planning to detonate them in the Queen's court and thrown history off track - thus making them a McGuffin for a different reason.
  • In some of the Jeeves and Wooster stories of PG Wodehouse, a silver tea-set creamer, hideously forged in the shape of a cow, becomes the focus of a on-going multi-cornered power-struggle. In other stories, the French chef Anatole is deployed as a Living MacGuffin.
  • Lampshaded in Italian writer collective Wu Ming's novel Fifty Four, which features a very important TV set manufactured by McGuffin Electrics.
  • The enormous, apocalyptic disaster at the beginning of The Road. We never find out what it was, because that's not important.
  • Eric Flint made up a MacGuffin for his book 1632 (he originally thought he was only going to write one book, not a series) called an Assiti Shard that transports a spherical area through time and space to an Alternate Universe. Flint openly states that he made the things up so that he'd have an easy way to create various Alternate History and Science Fiction books.
  • The oh-so-important crystal gravfield trap in The Thrawn Trilogy. The Republic ostensibly needs one to shoot down the cloaked asteroids Thrawn deployed above Coruscant, and they wage a massive battle at the climax of the last book to steal one from The Empire... and it turns out they never really needed it in the first place.
  • The entire universe of intelligent life revolves around a MacGuffin in William Sleator's Interstellar Pig, and then inverts it to hell and back. First, it's about an object you need to be holding by the end of a boardgame to win it, with the MacGuffin in question called the Piggy. Then, it turns out the Piggy is for real, and everyone is trying to get ahold of it so their species won't be vaporized by the end of the game. Once they've held it for a while, though, the Piggy tells them that if they don't pawn it off on some other species soon, the Piggy will blow a hole in the universe and kill whoever has it. The trope is folded back on itself again, as the human in the game gives the Piggy to some carnivorous fungi, and watches the departing spaceship leaving Earth carefully to see if it will make awesome fireworks. It doesn't.
  • The Cold War thriller The Widow Of Desire made a Russian lynx coat one of these, because vital information was smuggled inside it.
  • In the Shadowleague books, there's the Heart of Myrial, and the Hierarch's ring is a borderline example after Gilarra loses it to the Ak'Zahar.
  • The King's Ruby in Finn Family Moomintroll. The Groke is after Thingumy and Bob because they stole it from her, and the Magician (translated as "the Hobgoblin") has been searching the whole solar system for it all his life. It doesn't actually do anything aside from looking almost supernaturally nice.
  • In Mikhail Akhmanov's Earth Shadow, Dick Simon is sent by the civilized worlds to find out the fate of Earth-That-Was, which was cut off from the Portal Network at the end of the Exodus. He spends most of the novel looking for the Poltava, a top-of-the-line naval triplehulled cruiser, built shortly before the Exodus. He needs the ship's missiles to destroy a Lunar base that is the cause of the portal interference. He finally finds the derelict ship in a grotto under a mountain. Unfortunately, the missiles have all been used up. He ends up using a completely different (and easier) method of shutting down the transmitter. Had be done that from the start, the book would've been only ten pages long.
  • The Saghred in Lisa Shearin's fantasy series: an evil stone of cataclysmic power accidentally bonded to the main character. Everyone is after it, but Raine just wants to get rid of it. Also an Artifact of Doom and a Clingy MacGuffin.
  • In The Scar, the magus fin is this for the pursuing grindylow... or so Bellis thinks.
  • The painting "Moscow Asylum" in David Madsen's USSA, for a while. The protagonist wants to find because it's valuable to the artist, and he wants some information from the artist. A bunch of goons who steal it from him only do so because they assume it has some more intrinsic value to case he working on.
  • The titular Hallows from Harry Potter's seventh book are an in-universe McGuffin, but the wand gets special mention as it became the reason Harry managed to actually beat Voldemort, if Voldemort had disregarded it and used a random wand from one of his victims he would've won.
    • Not necessarily: Harry would probably have got hold of the thing himself if Voldemort had disregarded it. Remember, he found out about the Hallows independently, not from Voldemort. So he would more than likely have ended up Master of the Deathly Hallows, and at that point it could well have become a Curb Stomp Battle. So this might be only in-universe, since the things DO influence the plot.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's Glory Road contains a classic example: the Egg of the Phoenix, which must be recovered by the hero Oscar after having been stolen from the Empress of Fifty Universes. It has a function, but that function is irrelevant to the rescue plot, and only becomes important in the third part of the story by virtue of its Deconstruction of the Standard Hero Reward.
  • The Ghost Fleet in Startide Rising plays no larger role than to sic the whole galaxy on one damaged spaceship full of dolphins. Everyone, and I mean everyone wants to know where it is.
  • In Michael Flynn's The January Dancer, the harper claims that the object of The Quest is not important; what mattered was Jason and Medea, not the Golden Fleece. The scarred man objects: had he gone after the Tin Whistle or the Aluminum Coffeepot, the failure would have been different.
  • In Rudyard Kipling's The Three Decker, the tendency of wills to be Mac Guffins is tweaked:

We'd stolen wills for ballast and a crew of missing heirs.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Arguably, the entirety of "Lost" is an exercise in MacGuffin spotting.
  • Done to the point of extreme irritation in Alias as it's obvious by the end of season two that the writers can't come up with a satisfactory explanation for the prophet Rambaldi but are still going to drag out one tired MacGuffin for the rest of the series.
  • An Angel episode featured the group going on an Indiana Jones-type search for a mystical sword that is the only thing that can defeat their current foe, The Beast. It was All Just a Dream.
  • Power Rangers: The Mighty Morphin era includes a sword to transfer the powers of the original Red, Yellow & Black Rangers to their replacements(Future power transfers with later powers just featured the powers being handed over).
    • The Zeo Crystal subverts this as it was introduced in a 3 parter prior to the storyline in which the Rangers sought it out. Furthermore, Power Rangers Zeo would see the Crystal as the source of the Rangers' new powers.
  • Due South: The two-part first season episode "Chicago Holiday" features a matchbook that supposedly will give the owner control of the entire Chicago west side (whatever that means). The list is passed from hand to hand, but we never learn what is actually written on it, nor is it really important except to further the plot. There is also a hotel cleaning woman named "Mrs. MacGuffin", an In/Out Board that shows Mac Guff as "In", and a store security guard "Niffug, C. M.", whose name tag we conveniently see in a mirror, all obvious Shout Outs to Hitchcock.
    • As far as the utility and importance of the matchbook, it's got the names and addresses of every dealer and operator on the west side; he who holds the matchbook has power over all of them, a cut of their profits, etc.
  • The Prize for being the last Immortal standing in Highlander.
  • Season 2 of Prison Break has the characters chasing a MacGuffin all season: Charles Westmoreland's money. It briefly ends up in the hands of T-Bag and Bellick, but aside from an insignificant amount being spent, it only serves to move the plot along. Many things happen because of it, but it ends up as nobody's prize.
    • Season 4 also has a MacGuffin in the form of Scylla, the company's "Little Black Book." The first half of the season has the team chasing the Plot Coupon known as "cards" to unlock Scylla, but then it's stolen and everyone spends the rest of the season chasing it. Somewhere late in S4 Michael figures out that Scylla actually contains the secret to super-efficient solar power (or something), but it really doesn't matter to the plot. The point is that if they get Scylla, they can destroy The Company, and if they don't, they all go back to prison.
  • The remake of Battlestar Galactica turns Earth into a MacGuffin Location, uses that fact brilliantly in the third season's mid-season ending, then catches the audience off guard in the series finale. Most of the haunting clues the crew of Galactica have been encountering either fall into place or help promote the idea that the "route to Earth" they have been following is really a series of "predestined convenient encounters." The character of Hera becomes the final MacGuffin needed to find a home planet that turns out to be the real Earth long into its past.
  • An unaired episode of Dinosaurs, "Scent of a Reptile", revolves around Charlene getting her "scent", which will attract one male dinosaur and one male only, who will be her mate for life. When she realises that her destined mate is a slobbish janitor, her grandmother tells her the only way to change her scent is with a very rare flower found on the other side of the world - the MacGuffin Lily.
  • The Good Eats episode "Behind the Bird" was created and narrated by one-off character Blair McGuffin.
  • In an episode of Robin Hood a Celtic necklace is taken from a young peasant girl by Guy of Gisborne in order to give to Marian as a courtship present. When she discovers its origin, she gives it to Robin to return to the girl. The necklace exchanges hands several times throughout the course of the episode (eight characters in all get their chance to steal, find, return or give it away) and its whereabouts finally lead to Marian being forced to agree with marriage to Guy.
  • The Nickelodeon game show Legends of the Hidden Temple is one of the most literal applications of this trope. Each episode features a historical and/or mythological artifact that is eventually searched for and collected by the contestants. The actual nature of the item is completely unimportant outside of the trivia round, and in fact the item can be, and is, replaced with something else in each episode. The show itself is only concerned with the collection of said item.
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: The second half of the third season was especially MacGuffin filled: e.g., the stolen U.N.C.L.E. codes in "The It's All Greek to Me Affair", the explosive hula doll in "The Hula Doll Affair", the THRUSH historian's diaries in "The Pieces of Fate Affair", the Project Quasimodo filmclip in "The Matterhorn Affair", and the dress with the THRUSH coded pattern in "The Hot Number Affair" (Season 03, Episodes 21-25 inclusive).
  • The music box on White Collar, which drives the arc after the first six episodes, and serves no purpose other than the fact that Fowler wants it. [Disagree- This seemed like one at first, but has since been revealed to contain information (through music) for a fractal pattern that lead them to the real bad guy, and which has a purpose that they will also reveal. Certainly, it still didn't need to necessarily be a music box, but it is no longer just any object- but has specific information with a purpose that is being revealed].
  • Allo Allo is essentially nine seasons loosely tied together with several MacGuffins, in particular, the two paintings: the Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies by Van Klomp and the Broken Vase with the Big Daisies by Van Gogh. They change hands so many times, usually hidden in sausages, and have been forged constantly, so that it's almost impossible to tell who has them at any one time.
  • Number Six's reason for resigning in The Prisoner. We never find out what it was; all that's important is Number Six has something the bad guys want, and most of the plots (at least in the first half of the series) deal with their efforts to make him give it up.
  • A few episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine have cargoes of "self-sealing stembolts", whose sole function is seemingly to get sold for more than they're actually worth.
  • After variousMaddigan's Quest characters spend most of the series either chasing or protecting Eden's talisman, it's revealed as one of these, and in the second-last episode it turns out that the real 'talisman' is Jewel.
  • Annie's pen in Community episode "Cooperative Calligraphy",
  • In Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, the titular team is looking for the Greatest Treasure In The Universe. Said treasure was what their leader, Captain Marvelous, and his former team, The Red Pirates, were looking for before one of their own decided to sell them out to The Zangyack so he can get the treasure for himself.
    • Subverted in that the Greatest Treasure actually does turn out to have a purpose (it can remake reality) but comes with a heavy price (using it will also Ret-Gone all of the Super Sentai), and the Gokaiger have to decide whether or not to use it. They end up destroying it and doing things the hard way.

It seems that every fifth episode of Stargate: SG-1 involved chasing some alien technology MacGuffin that is never seen or heard of again.


Myth And Legend[edit | hide]

  • The Golden Fleece in the story of Jason and the Argonauts: It's an alternate name for a MacGuffin.
    • The Fleece was actually full of gold, on behalf of being used repeatedly to filter water from a river containing gold dust. Worth its weight in gold, in other words.
  • The Finnish national epic, The Kalevala, revolves around various people searching for and fighting over the Sampo, which is eventually lost at sea. The standard Kalevala compilation by Elias Lönnrot describes it as a mill which produces gold, wheat and salt, but he made this up - his original sources never specified what it was and nobody really knows to this day.
  • Several of the Labours of Hercules boil down to "kill dangerous creature(s)", "capture dangerous creature(s)", or "acquire object(s)".
    • Killing the Nemean Lion. While the lionskin grants the power of invulnerability, and later is worn by Hercules, its powers aren't relevant to the rest of the story.
    • Capturing the Ceryneian Hind (a.k.a. the Golden Hind). Any object whose capture / theft would have offended a deity would have served. Turns into a case of No MacGuffin, No Winner.
    • Capturing the Erymanthean Boar.
    • Capturing the Mares of Diomedes.
    • The girdle of Hippolyta. Its magic powers, if any, aren't relevant; neither is its possible status as a symbol of authority, because the attack by the Amazons was instigated by the false belief that Hercules was engaged in a kidnap attempt, not by anything to do with the girdle itself.
    • The apples of the Hesperides. They just have to be retrieved.
  • The Golden Apple of Discord. A golden apple that says "For the Fairest", Eris created it so that Hera, Athena and Aphrodite would fight over it. It eventually led to the Trojan War.
  • The Holy Grail. Much of Arthurian legend concerns different knights' quests for the grail, but once the grail is found, the court of Arthur has nothing better to do and is left to disintegrate. It has in fact first been mentioned in a novel about the Arthurian legend.


Religion And Mythology[edit | hide]

  • Samson had two. One was the answer to his riddle. The other was the source of his strength. Both were tricked out of him by his wives of the time.


Tabletop RPG[edit | hide]

  • The Paranoia adventure "The Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues". The title Black Box. What it does is eventually revealed, in some versions of the adventure, but it's unlikely your player characters will live long enough to discover it.


Theatre[edit | hide]

  • In Philoctetes, while much is made of Philoctetes' special bow (received from Herakles himself) the plot itself is not really concerned with its purpose as much as the choices the characters make because of and in spite of its importance.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Every single Tomb Raider game involves Lara on a quest to collect some kind of artifact, except for Unfinished Business.
    • This trope is sort of subverted in Tomb Raider Legend when the MacGuffin is the legendary sword Excalibur, which Lara uses as a weapon in the final boss fight.
  • The BMW M3 from Need for Speed: Most Wanted counts as a MacGuffin: the entire career mode is about climbing through the Blacklist until you defeat Razor and recover he took away from you, it's as powerful as a fully tuned Ford Mustang, you only get to use it at the very beginning and at the very end, and also doubles as a Bragging Rights Reward for clearing the game.
  • Chrono Trigger both uses it straight and subverts it, formerly with the Gate Key (which gets stolen once, but is only mentioned twice in the context of the story as a convenient device to open Time Travel gates. It's subverted with Marle's pendant, which seems to be just as much of a MacGuffin at first, but later becomes vital and useful after its upgrade. Not only is it used to obtain the Cool Ship, but it allows you to open the closed boxes that are scattered everywhere in the game world.
  • The Chrono Trigger example can be extended to many console RPGs. As soon as the Rebellious Princess or Mysterious Waif joins the party, odds on you'll get their pendant/gem/other valuable heirloom too. The object's relevance varies wildly between actually useful in game (generally opening magical seals or an equippable item), ultimate cosmic plot power, true MacGuffin style object that everyone wants which is actually just junk, mentioned a handful of times in conversation, and an utterly irrelevant item that just clogs up your inventory. Whichever it is, there's no way you'll avoid chasing after the damn thing if it gets lost or stolen.
  • In fact, the sequel to Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross, is perhaps an even better example than its predecessor: The Frozen Flame, a mystical artifact which grants its owner ultimate power, is used to drive the plot up until Chronopolis. However, it turns out that instead of an "artifact" it's a giant honkin' rock which is neither frozen nor a flame, and while it does technically posess great power, it requires a huge lab and tons of futuristic equipment to use it. Which, by the way, you don't get to... it appears as a background graphic before a boss battle, and then you never see it again. And then you kick yourself and realize that if you hadn't been chasing the Frozen Flame, you'd be back in your home world, living the idyllic (and very boring from a gameplay standpoint) life you led in the first 15 minutes of the game.
  • The Seal of Metatron from Silent Hill 3 is a MacGuffin of the Maltese Falcon kind: you have to pound your way through a rotten hospital in Dark Silent Hill to get it, you can't use it during normal gameplay, it's supposed to kill God, and in the end, Claudia says it's just a piece of worthless crap.
  • The firespawn Blaze in the game Mortal Kombat Armageddon has been accused of being a living MacGuffin; the quest to defeat him originally meant to prevent The End of the World as We Know It, but the added side-effect of gaining godlike power inspires the other characters besides those intended on beating him to go after him and provide the basis of the game. As per the nature of the MacGuffin, Blaze's power in relation to whoever defeats him changes with the person, and is never solidly defined.
    • Finally, Shinnok's Amulet was the MacGuffin for at least three games in the Mortal Kombat series, even though the most we ever learn about it is that it can only be created once (proven false by Quan Chi making a fake one), and that it's used to fuse the Kamidogu (yet another MacGuffin in Deception) and, thus, all of reality together.
  • The eleventh level quest in the sarcastic MMORPG Kingdom of Loathing is, quite literally, the Quest for the Holy MacGuffin. When you find it, its image turns out to be a box with a giant question-mark on the side, and you can't do anything with it except give it to the Council of Loathing, who then stash it in a secret warehouse and forget about it.
  • The Water Chip and GECK from the Fallout games, are both classic examples of a MacGuffin, both of whoms main purposes is to get the player out of the starting area.
    • In Fallout: New Vegas, you're a courier who was attacked for the package he/she was carrying and left for dead in the desert. The main plot is apparently finding the people who attacked you and discovering what was in the package. This MacGuffin actually turns out to be useful if you pursue either of the two (out of four) endgame questlines that have you siding with either Mr. House (head honcho of New Vegas) or the robot Yes Man.
  • The Ankaran Sarcophagus from Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines; prince LaCroix's obsession with it, and the effect it has on the various vampire factions of the city, drives much of the plot. Subverted in a most satisfying fashion in the anarch and independent endings, where it turns out it contained a bomb planted by your Trickster Mentor intended to kill said prince -- even the fact that you were the Unwitting Pawn that allowed the plan to succeed was worth it for the sight of LaCroix opening the casket and finding out what his 'gateway to infinite power' contained...
  • In Splinter Cell: Pandora Tommorrow, the player character's first mission is to infiltrate an embassy being raided by guerrillas. It's stressed that your objective is to destroy a computer containing sensitive information. Even the hostages being held are of secondary importance. When you contact the man that knows where this information is, he gives you an email he stole from one of his captors and your next objective his to decrypt it. The initial computer you were sent to smash- the one that was so critical it was worth risking the lives of dozens of hostages- is never mentioned again.
  • The Amulet of Kings in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The entire main quest line revolves around getting the Amulet and the Emperor's son to the same place. Once you do, you get to see the ending sequence but not to participate in it.
  • Isabella in Advance Wars: Days of Ruin is a living MacGuffin. Completely amnesiac except for mysterious knowledge concerning where the protagonists should go next, her return is eventually demanded by the game's Big Bad on pain of aerial bombardment... after which it's revealed that nothing about her is particularly special (literally since she's a clone); the bastard just wanted to see what would happen if he held the last settlement of man Hostage for McGuffin.
  • The optical disc from Metal Gear Solid. Snake gets it early on and doesn't really know what it's for, but unbeknownst to the player, almost the entire plot revolves around that disc.
    • the first part isn't entirely true, snake was explictly told what was on it when he was given the thing in the first place (all of the test data collected from Metal Gear REX's first practical real-world operations test), and no one else (save ocelot) knew he had it until snake was captured, which kinda disqualifies it for macguffin status.
  • Crysis Warhead, the entire game is chasing a MacGuffin. But with more explosions.
  • The entire plot for Threads of Fate involves the main characters questing after the [relic] of ultimate power, capable of granting any wish. It winds up getting transported to another dimension right after the final boss fight, and just short of the opportunity to really begin abusing that sucker's power. C'est la vie.
  • Kingdom Hearts has the seven Princesses of Heart in the first game, although the heroes are only concerned with Kairi, who also serves as something of a MacGuffin Girl herself (though less so in the second game, where she takes a more active role and is more established) until her actual rescue late in the game, where she actively rescues Sora and then gives Sora a powerful keyblade. The titular Kingdom Heart itself serves as a MacGuffin, however, as the organizations are all desperately seeking it, dispite not truly knowing what it is or what it does. For example, Maleficent thinks it's an actual kingdom, and Ansem The Seeker Of Darkness thinks that it's a realm of purest darkness! It's actually where all those hearts freed from The Heartless by the keyblade end up, collectively taking the form of a heart-shaped moon of immense mystic power. Organization XIII wants to use it to find their hearts and become whole, except for their leader, who wants the power.
    • It's...the heart of all worlds. Xemnas and Ansem just exploit phenomena that cause doorways to it to physically manifest.
    • It's also worth noting that the Kingdom Hearts that the Organization had was a synthetic copy made from the hearts freed by the keyblade when it is held captive by an Emblem Heartless. Only Ansem and Master Xehanort came close to obtaining the real Kingdom Hearts and even then, the Kingdom Hearts behind the Door to Darkness was incomplete as not all of the world's hearts have been returned, courtesy of Sora sealing the keyholes of some worlds and Master Xehanort's plan to forge the X-Blade was incomplete, as the complete X-Blade can only be formed by the clashing of 7 lights and 13 darknesses.
  • In Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, Guybrush Threepwood begins his quest to find the "Big Whoop", a legendary treasure known and craved by all pirates, even when no one knows what it is.
  • Averted with The Secret of Monkey Island itself. Although mentioned frequently across the series, and the name of the first game, the task of finding it is never used to drive the plot. Guybrush does find it accidentally in the fourth game, but it happens so randomly that the player would never know they found the Secret, if it weren't for the FMV movie named such. The creator of the series still says that he never told anyone what the real secret is, and that he might do a final game to wrap up the series. There are hints that the secret will be that the game events aren't real (i.e., Guybrush is dreaming or is an in-universe fictional character), but it doesn't actually come up.
  • Wing Commander II lampshades this with Specialist MacGuffin, the poor soul who first spots the traitor aboard your ship radioing a Kilrathi commander. He's promptly shot for his efforts, though not before he grabs the traitor's flight insignia.
  • Planescape: Torment has the Bronze Sphere as its primary MacGuffin. It becomes a Chekhov's Gun if you take it with you throughout the whole game and deduce the identity of the Good Incarnation.
  • Kane & Lynch: Dead Men features a pair of briefcases early on that Kane and Lynch must try to capture within three weeks to save Kane's family. After finding that one of the cases is missing from its vault, they try and fail to find the last case, and after they're betrayed by The7, they cause a mass jailbreak to get a crew together and continue all the way to Japan to capture the second briefcase. We never discover what's in the briefcases.
  • The quests, especially open-world leveling quests, in World of Warcraft fall into a small number of broad categories, the most common being 1) Talk to someone, 2) Kill something (or X number of somethings), and 3) Collect something. The Collect-something quests involve MacGuffins. The majority of players don't bother to read quest text in detail; they just check it for the name of the MacGuffin(s) they need to collect this time.
  • The resonator from Gears of War is an item that supposedly can help deliver a final strike against the Locus Horde by mapping out their tunnels. Midway through the game they activate it, thinking their job is done, only to realize that the resonator didn't do what it was supposed to do. They had to go onto something else to get a map of their tunnels.
  • The Fire Emblem from the Fire Emblem series takes the form of the local MacGuffin most of the time (the exception being the two Jugdral games, where it is mentioned in one conversation in the ending as a house sigil only).
  • The Amulet of Yendor in Nethack.
  • Spyro games work off of this formula. In the first game, you unfreeze dragons. In the second, you collect orbs (which is an aversion, due to their usage in the final battle) and talismans. In the third, you collect dragon eggs. You collect gems in all of them. Et al.
  • The title giving substance of the game Chrome, it's never explained what exactly chrome is, what it does, what it's used for and why exactly it's so valuable, all that's said is that it's of high importance to the plot. In fact you never even get to see it in the game.
  • The flash game Level Up! Lampshades this quite humorously. In the codex, which details everything you encounter and/or do in the game, the magical gems that you need to collect are described thusly: "McGuffin object with mysterious powers and incredible value, considering they are lying around everywhere."
  • Freespace 2 features the GTVA Colossus, the largest ship ever built. Once deployed, it is treated as a victory condition for any engagement it participates in. The second the Colossus shows up, the enemy either retreats or is destroyed by its beam cannons and fighter compliment, regardless of the enemy fleet's actual strength.
    • The Colossus is later heavily damaged or even destroyed in a one-on-one engagement to show us how badass the new Shivan juggernaut Sathanas is. Colossus can only survive the engagement if the player destroys all four of Sathanas' forward beam cannons in an earlier mission.
  • Skies of Arcadia has a Moonstone meteor crash into Shrine Island near the heroes' home of Pirate Isle. Vyse and Aika go ahead and retreive it, but its real purprose is have them off the island so that Valua can turn it into a Doomed Hometown. The Raw Moonstone stays in the inventory for the entire game, but is never used despite being a potential feul source.
  • The legendary Rogueport treasure in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. Its only actual purpose is getting Mario and Goombella to meet there and start the investigation about the Door. The treasure is quickly overshadowed by the legendary demon about to break the seal on the Door, and it's never mentioned again until the After the Credits sequence. This is because the legendary treasure was actually a rumor spread by the Shadow Sirens to attract attention to Rogueport and get someone to open the Thousand Year Door. They may or may not have known the seal was going to break on its own anyways though. The fact that there actually was a treasure is a coincidence.
  • The war plans from the original Castle Wolfenstein. You need to find them while escaping from the castle, but they have no other effect in the game.
  • City of Heroes police radio missions have dozens of MacGuffins. In the spirit of the trope, exactly which of them is involved in a particular mission is inconsequential; the mission boils down to "Villain group X has MacGuffin Y. Get it back." Sadly, there's not a literal MacGuffin among them, but there is a P.L.O.T. Device.
    • One alignment mission hinges on what you decide to do with Steven Werner's precious item. That's the name of the item in question, "Steven Werner's precious item".
  • Scribblenauts has the Starites. We're never given any explanation to them other than Maxwell's objective is to collect them.
  • Freelancer has the alien artifact. For 90% of the game, all you know about it is that it keeps getting space stations blown up under Trent's feet.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog, the Chaos Emeralds are almost always the reason anybody does anything at all. In the comics, somebody's always after them. In the games, they aren't always necessary to the plot itself, but regardless, you always need them to get the 'Good' ending.
  • Dragon Age II Act II has a straightforward MacGuffin; the Qunari "artifact". But the overarching MacGuffin is obscured, it's never an objective for the main characters, yet it impacts the plot more significantly: the lyrium idol.
  • Arguably the cake in Portal, depending on how you interpret Chell's motives. It's introduced a while in, but it acts as a motivator and it turns out you were being misled by something nonexistant.
  • The Key of Twilight is a mysterious item told of in legend in every iteration of The World and is the original goal of every group of protagonists. In the Epitaph of Twilight, the Key was required to rouse the Twilight Dragon to fight the Cursed Wave, but the Epitaph was never completed; in series, the Key is considered merely considered to be an item of immense power that can change the rules of the game itself. No one definite thing that could be called the "Key of Twilight" is ever really featured and its recovery tends to go forgotten as its search reveals even greater calamity on the horizon.
  • The onklunk in Leisure Suit Larry Goes Looking for Love (in Several Wrong Places). It has a piece of microfiche inside which has no real relevance to the game other than a bunch of Dirty Commies who will stop at nothing to get it.
  • Jiggies are the MacGuffin of the Banjo-Kazooie games. (Except that the Jiggies do open other worlds in the game, making them essential in rescuing Tootie who could be an example of a Living Macguffin...)


Visual Novels[edit | hide]

  • Mary's eye in Shikkoku no Sharnoth. We know what the eye does for her but exactly how it would really help anyone else who acquired it is pretty vague. They simply want it.


Webcomics[edit | hide]

  • Marsh Rocket features a Pulp Fiction-style suitcase that drives the plot. It is revealed to contain tax papers for the IRS.
  • In Kevin and Kell, the original Danielle has disks with all the important data for "Rabbit's Revenge", an underground group with terroristic tendencies. The disks are shown in the June 21, 2003, strip, labeled "McGuffin disks".
  • In Absurd Notions, The Legendary Rock of Rama Lama is initially a MacGuffin (illustrated by Warren's remark), but ceases to be that when the players refuse to accept that.
  • On the cast page of Erfworld, the Arkenhammer's occupation is actually listed as "MacGuffin". (Strictly speaking, it isn't one: the Arkenhammer—or more precisely, the dwagons that have been tamed with its power—are critically important to the plot.) It also cracks walnuts rather well, though they occasionally turn into pigeons instead. Sometimes you need to tame a dwagon. Sometimes you just need to bust a nut.
  • Issue #23 of Nodwick did this while simultaneously parodying The Lord of the Rings. The title character finds "This One Ring" and his employers force him to go on a long quest to destroy it. When the history of the ring is told, it's made clear that the ring does absolutely nothing, but everyone except Nodwick acts as if the ring had infinite power.
  • Ancient sacred relic #7 in Hellbound.
  • Parodied in Megatokyo. Early on, Largo blows all his cash on a mysterious "cool thing". The exact extent of its abilities is never revealed, but it apparently at least has the power to call forth a legion of cardboard robots Largo created. Also joked about in one of the books, where author Piro comments that even he doesn't know what it does, and "Shirt Guy" Dom comments that the instant they figure it out, it'll be sold at the site's store within two weeks.
  • Lampshaded in Order of the Stick, Xykon informs Redcloak that he only cares about the "MacGuffin", referring to the rift gates.
  • In Goats, Diablo convinces Bob and Neil to become art thieves:

Diablo: Ah. Here we are. The "Holy MacGuffin" is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Neil (or Bob): What's a MacGuffin?
Diablo: It's not really important.
Neil (or Bob): It sounds like a species of flightless waterfowl.
Bob (or Neil): Or a breakfast sandwich.

  • The glowing ball in Autumnside is a MacGuffin which is at least semi-sentient.
  • In Captain SNES Alex is given a Mystic Mouse, which is supposedly an extremely powerful item. But he doesn't know how to use it and openly refers to it as a "MacGuffin".
  • The beginning of Gunnerkrigg Court, Chapter 23: "Terror Castle of the Jupiter Moon Martians", features a Macguffin parody. Within the simulator, the students are tasked with retrieving an Ancient Artifact from the aforementioned Terror Castle. Andrew Smith's order-inducing powers rewrite the simulation to make the artifact appear at his feet, thus ending the plot before it could even start, much to his and the other students' chagrin.
    • And the readers' who where cheering at the idea of a new spacemonauts tale
  • As in the original Final Fantasy I, 8-bit Theater's elemental orbs of light are the four pillars upon which the world depends upon which the Light Warriors have to collect for reasons unknown to them.
    • Speaking of Final Fantasy, the Warring Triad from Final Fantasy VI. They're just petrified gods that are introduced out of nowhere to give Kefka godlike power. Then Kefka makes you fight them later on because...he...can...? Suffice it to say, the conclusion would have been no different if it were a magic paperclip.
      • The Narshe Esper is also initially an example of this, but bigger MacGuffins later on greatly overshadow it.
      • The Crystals of Light in many earlier Final Fantasies (such as IV and Mystic Quest) are also examples of this.
  • Lampshaded in A Girl and Her Fed, though here's to hoping that they're not what we'd traditionally call a MacGuffin, as they had better explain some things. Unless this is a hint from the writer that they won't...

Girl: Damn, we're juggling a load of MacGuffins. And I've heard MacGuffins are insanely high in calories... Get it? Muffin? MacGuffin?"

Alice: Surprise! I was paying attention! Now let's go get that horcrux
Poe: Julia.
Alice: Whatever, it's a maguffin. Now let's go get that treasure!

Web Original[edit | hide]


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Every other Uncle Scrooge Comic Story, and to a lesser extent, DuckTales, is essentially a search for a historical MacGuffin. It matters not whether the already-ultra-rich McDuck searches for the Golden Fleece, Solomon's Mines, the remnants of the Trojan Horse, the Crown of the Crusader Kings, the Candy-Striped Ruby etc. so much as it's something valuable for both him and Glomgold to get involved.
    • Don Rosa's life stories of Scrooge McDuck make this even more explicit by detailing his adventures around in search of wealth, and the sharp downturn after he could just lie back and manage it. The treasures he's now seeking are less important than the ability to zoom halfway across the planet to do it.
  • An episode of the Sam and Max Freelance Police cartoon revolved around the heroes chasing an FDA inspector, trying to feed him a sample of their favorite snack food so that he'll realize how delicious they are and lift the ban he's placed on them. The snack food? "Glazed MacGuffins".
  • Codename: Kids Next Door, "Operation Report" refers to its MacGuffin as The Goods until practically the end of the story, where it turns out to just be a pizza they were suppose to get. But at least they actually reveal it... the mysterious ice cream flavor that Numbuh 5 and the Delightfuls were fighting over in "Operation Flavor" gets "name-cancelled" the only it's going to be mentioned when the others have phoned Numbuh 5.
  • In an episode of G.I. Joe, Shipwreck finds himself conscripted into entertaining a group of children while the other Joes guard a machine actually called "The Macguffin Device". Neither the Joes nor Cobra knows what the thing does, they just don't want the other side to have it.
  • A Wacky Races-inspired episode of Teen Titans involves Robin's high-security suitcase. Its opening at the end is a textbook use of The Un-Reveal.
  • The Taz-Mania episode "Road To Tazmania" is in the same vein, with secret agents chasing two Tasmanian Devils with a certain orange juice box, right down to ending on the opening of the container without revealing what's in it.
  • The Golden Disk in Transformers: Beast Wars started as a MacGuffin... but in the second season, it evolved out of that status, with Megatron demonstrating exactly what it was and why it was so dangerous in his hands.
  • The Anti-Life Equation in the Diniverse. Several villains, most notably Darkseid, want it, and the chase for it is a recurring plot point. The equation itself, on the other hand, is not: What it does remains undefined and the two who finally get their hands on it promptly vanish from this reality. (The comic book version, on the other hand, does define the Equation, and some of those seeking it have been able to use it. It's an empirical scientific formula which demonstrates the meaninglessness and futility of existence, which allows one to control the will of others entirely. Its ominous name comes from the idea that "if someone possesses absolute control over you - you're not really alive." Scott "Mr. Miracle" Free has known the Equation all along but chooses not to use it.)
    • Darkseid isn't the most notable villain to want it; he's the only one who wants it, and the fact that in the finale` another villain Lex Luthor gets a hold of it is rather incidental Lex only has it because he was looking for something, anything, to defeat Darkseid, and thats just what he was given. Darkseid doesn't actually spend much time searching for the Equation either and usually is out to conquer Earth and screw with Superman. The closest he gets to searching for it is one story where he reprogrammes Brainiac and refers to him as "his solution to the Anti-Life Equation", meaning rather than look for the thing he'd decided to actually use a substitute.
  • The titular Black Cauldron In the book, on the other hand, the Cauldron was very much its own thing. Hen Wen, on the other hand, served to be chased and clashed over until finally doing something in the final book.
  • In an American Idol parody episode of The Simpsons, the prize winner gets to star in their own "Itchy and Scratchy" episode. After that, it is never brought up again in the episode.
  • The plot of Kung Fu Panda, to an extent, revolves around the Dragon Scroll—who gets it, who deserves it, how and when it will be used. Tai Lung went to the Dark Side because he was not granted it, then spends twenty years in prison thinking of nothing else, escaping only when he learns it will be given to someone else. The Furious Five, meanwhile, all want it so they can stop the Big Bad and prove their worth to their master, while everyone from Shifu on down to Po believes the panda needs it and its ultimate power to win. And the final battle is literally an endless series of hot potato tosses back and forth around the village square, with Tai Lung and Po constantly in pursuit of each other to get the scroll back.
    • The kicker? The scroll is blank, without any special secret written on it. The double kicker? What seems a worthless artifact is actually a reflective parchment geared to make Po gain the confidence to believe in the Be Yourself lesson. Tai Lung doesn't get it at all, and thinks it really is a worthless MacGuffin which he has wasted his whole life pursuing. The rage this discovery produces contributes strongly to Po's victory.
  • At least two episodes of Kim Possible revolve around a pure MacGuffin: in "Sick Day" it's "Ray X" which is repeatedly stolen and recovered when the players are incapacitated by a cold they pass to each other (and "Ray X" is revealed to be a cure for the common cold, after it has been destroyed). "Adventures In Rufus-Sitting" sees the Non-Human Sidekick Rufus swallow a microchip - pursed by three villains and protected by Kim.
    • Another is the Pan Dimensional Vortex Inducer. Dr. Drakken says outright that he only wants it because his rival Professor Dementor has it. No-one but Dementor and its inventors even know what it does until near the end.
  • Several episodes of The Secret Show revolve around the U.Z.Z. agents trying to prevent the theft of "The Secret Thing," which is so secret that nobody knows what it is or what it does, but everyone wants it just the same.
  • The Crystal Coconut in Donkey Kong Country is almost always in danger of being stolen by the Kremlings.
  • In an episode of The Adventures of Super Mario Bros 3, Mario and friends have to keep a magic wand safe from the Koopas until the king it belongs to comes to pick it up.
  • Phineas and Ferb
    • The episode 'Vanessesary Roughness" involves a four-way struggle between Perry the Platypus, Vanessa Doofenshmirtz and Ferb, Baljeet and Buford, and Candace to get a tube of "pizzazium infinionite".
    • Lampshaded later in the aptly-titled episode "Finding Mary McGuffin", in which Phineas and Ferb track down Candace's lost Mary McGuffin doll. A line near the end makes it clear it's not a coincidence to boot, when a fight between Vanessa and Candace over the titular doll leads Ferb to comment, "This is exactly why they took that doll off the market."
  • Numerous episodes of Garfield and Friends mentioned the Klopman Diamond.
  • Every episode of Family Guy starts off with a different macguffin. And it is occasionally referred to again at the end for a Brick Joke, and possibly some Chekhov's guns, too.
  • In The Penguins of Madagascar, Kowalski made a time machine, and the chemical that he needs to start it (and gets Private and Skipper into a fight over it) is called, what else, MacGuffium 2-39.
  • The 13 ingredients needed to make the antidote in Argai the Prophecy.
  • Jumbonium in a Futurama episode where we meet Bender's evil twin.
  • Acknowledged in an episode of Sabrina the Animated Series when Sabrina and Chloe find themselves trapped inside a video game. The only way to escape is to retrieve an artefact from a citadel at the other end of the country. What's this item called? The Golden MacGuffin.

Notes

  1. Clockwise from the top left: The eponymous bird from The Maltese Falcon; the "briefcase full of money" used in innumerable thrillers over the decades; Kate's toy plane, from Lost; the crystal shard, from The Dark Crystal; "The Winslow", from Phil Foglio's Buck Godot; the true Grail, from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.