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[[quoteright:309:http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/McguffinCollage.jpg]]
[[caption-width-right:309:A [=MacGuffin=], every one of them[[note]]Clockwise from the top left: The eponymous bird from ''Film/TheMalteseFalcon''; the "[[AMacGuffinFullOfMoney briefcase full of money]]" used in innumerable thrillers over the decades; Kate's toy plane, from ''Series/{{Lost}}''; the crystal shard, from ''Film/TheDarkCrystal''; "The Winslow", from Creator/PhilFoglio's ''ComicBook/{{Buck Godot|Zap Gun for Hire}}''; the true Grail, from ''Film/IndianaJonesAndTheLastCrusade''.[[/note]]]]
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->"''In crook stories it is almost always the necklace,\\
and in spy stories it is most always the papers.''"
-->-- '''Creator/AlfredHitchcock'''

[=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 serves no further purpose. It won't pop up again later, it won't explain the ending, it won't 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 [[TheCaper 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.
* ''Does it do anything, and if it does, is it ever actually used in story?'' If the answer to both is yes, it's a PlotDevice, not a MacGuffin. For {{Plot Device}}s that get the same attention as a MacGuffin, compare MagneticPlotDevice.

If it passes both of these criteria, congratulations: its a MacGuffin!

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

The term was popularized by Creator/AlfredHitchcock, who 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 OlderThanFeudalism.

Contrast MockGuffin, for when an object that isn't really a [=MacGuffin=] is mistaken for one.


If you want to start [[JustifyingEdit arguing]] that your favourite series' most awesome magical thing isn't a [=MacGuffin=], remember that TropesAreTools. Having a [=MacGuffin=] is not necessarily bad writing, depending on how it's handled -- concretely defining or giving a central role to the object of a chase can ''detract'' from a work, if the point is to focus on the characters.

[=MacGuffin=] sub-tropes:
[[index]]
* [[AccidentallyBrokeTheMacGuffin Accidentally Broke The [=MacGuffin=]]]: When someone breaks the [=MacGuffin=] when he needed it.
* ArtifactOfAttraction: If the object itself is inherently irresistible.
* [[ClingyMacGuffin Clingy [=MacGuffin=]]]: Inversion of this trope -- its most important attribute is that the person who has it wants to be rid of it.
* [[DismantledMacGuffin Dismantled [=MacGuffin=]]]: The [=MacGuffin=] is split into several parts and hidden in different places. {{Plot coupon}}s are most often this type of [=MacGuffin=].
* EggMacGuffin: [[ExactlyWhatItSaysOnTheTin A [=MacGuffin=] that is an egg.]]
* FreeSamplePlotCoupon: The first [=MacGuffin=] is given or found with zero effort, compared to subsequent ones.
* GoingToSeeTheElephant: Taking a trip with no serious purpose. The reason for the trip may be a [=MacGuffin=] or may not.
* HostageForMacGuffin: The heroes have the [=MacGuffin=]. The Villain has a hostage and wants the [=MacGuffin=]. Trade ya?
* ImDyingPleaseTakeMyMacGuffin: 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.
* LivingMacGuffin: A living being, free (or at least in no danger), who serves as the [=MacGuffin=].
* AMacGuffinFullOfMoney: The [=MacGuffin=] is simply a large amount of cash.
* MacGuffinDeliveryService: The good guys get the [=MacGuffin=] just in time for the bad guys to steal it from them. Bad guys win! (Temporarily.)
* MacGuffinEscortMission: The good guys get the [=MacGuffin=] early on. The rest of the story is about them transporting it somewhere else without losing it.
* MacGuffinGirl: The [=MacGuffin=] is transformed into a living being (usually a girl).
* MacGuffinGuardian: The monster that guards the [=MacGuffin=].
* MacGuffinLocation: The [=MacGuffin=] isn't a thing or a person, it's a place.
* MacGuffinMelee: When multiple groups searching for the [=MacGuffin=] find it at the same time and a fight breaks out.
* MacGuffinTitle: The [=MacGuffin=] is right there in the title of the work.
* MementoMacGuffin: A [=MacGuffin=] that holds sentimental value to one or more characters.
* MineralMacGuffin: 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=].
* MockGuffin: A [=MacGuffin=] that turns out to be worthless.
* NoMacGuffinNoWinner: Neither side has the [=MacGuffin=] in the end. It's been destroyed, lost, or discovered to be fake.
* NoManShouldHaveThisPower: The [=MacGuffin=] is a lot more trouble than it is worth, and may as well just be destroyed.
* OneTrueSequence: The heroes and villains reach the [=MacGuffin=] simultaneously, regardless of how much sense it makes timescale-wise.
* PirateBooty: Older than the BriefcaseFullOfMoney, and even more likely to be stolen.
* PlotCoupon: A common manifestation in video games, an item that the player must acquire to advance the plot, but serves no other gameplay purpose.
* ThePresidentsDaughter: The [=MacGuffin=] is a living person, and is in danger, held captive or being actively hunted. Contrast with LivingMacGuffin.
* RansackedRoom: 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.
* SoundStone: The [=MacGuffin=] is a sound rather than a thing, or a thing that must be used to produce the sound.
* StolenMacGuffinReveal: The [=MacGuffin=] was a fake, or stolen before the thief got it.
* TimelineAlteringMacGuffin: An otherwise unimportant item from the future that, if left in the past during time travel, will have [[ButterflyEffect serious consequences]].
* TwoHalvesMakeAPlot: A [=MacGuffin=] is in two pieces and need to be put together for the plot to move forward.
[[/index]]

See also ItsTheJourneyThatCounts, YourPrincessIsInAnotherCastle, AllThatGlitters, ChekhovsGun and MagicFeather.

As you might have guessed from the sheer number of [[SubTrope sub-tropes]], this is a very common {{trope}} in fiction. So common, in fact, that it [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MacGuffin has its own page]] on TheOtherWiki.

'''Do not confuse with PlotDevice. Please, don't.''' Also not to be confused with the tribe from ''WesternAnimation/{{Brave}}'', or anyone of Scottish descent.
----
!!Example subpages:
[[index]]
* MacGuffin/AnimeAndManga
* MacGuffin/ComicBooks
* MacGuffin/{{Film}}
* MacGuffin/{{Literature}}
* MacGuffin/{{Live-Action TV}}
* MacGuffin/ReligionAndMythology
* MacGuffin/VideoGames
* MacGuffin/WebComics
* MacGuffin/WesternAnimation
* MacGuffin/RealLife
[[/index]]
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!!Other Examples:

[[foldercontrol]]

[[folder:Fan Works]]
* In ''Fanfic/ThePrayerWarriors'', during "The Battle With the Witches", the heroes look for five keys to get into [[Franchise/HarryPotter Dumbledore's office in Hogwarts]]. One is carried by Ginny, another by Ron, a third by Harry, and a fourth by Hermione. It's unclear who has the fifth key, since after the fourth key, the Prayer Warriors break into Dumbledore's office and kill him.
* In ''FanFic/{{Pokeumans}}'' the Gemstone Files take this role at first, but are later replaced by [[MineralMacGuffin the Dimensional Gems]].
* ''FanFic/TheCaptainOfTheVirtualConsole'' has the Runestones, manifestations of players' love for gaming.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Fairy Tales]]
* In ''Literature/CatherineAndHerFate'', the skein of silk that Catherine's Fate gives her is so apparently worthless that she nearly throws it out. It has, it turns out, two properties: it is exactly the color needed to sew the king's wedding garments, inspiring him to say that she shall have its weight in gold, and it outweighs his entire treasury, thereby inspiring him to demand her story.
[[/folder]]

[[folder: Tabletop RPG]]
* The ''TabletopGame/{{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.
* The "Honor & Intrigue" system has a character attribute actually called [[LampshadeHanging [="MacGuffin"=]]]. Taking it turns one of the items in your character's possession into a future [=MacGuffin=].
* Referenced in ''[[TabletopGame/MistbornTheOriginalTrilogy Mistborn Adventure Game]]'', where the book uses the term "MacGuffin" to describe a Secret that has no function other than to be the thing everyone wants. For example, a vast hoard of precious metal that may or may not exist, and which is of little use anyway, because the world is coming to an end and there's nothing to buy with that wealth.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Theatre]]
* In ''Theatre/{{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.
* In ''Theatre/SherlockHolmes'', the [=MacGuffin=] is a packet containing letters, photographs, jewelry etc. that were sent to Alice Faulkner's late sister by a foreign gentleman who seduced and ruined her, and the villains want it out of the picture now that he wants to marry. The name of the gentleman is merely whispered inaudibly, and the sister's name is not revealed either.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Visual Novels]]
* Mary's eye in ''VisualNovel/ShikkokuNoSharnoth''. We know what the eye does for ''her'' but exactly how it would really help anyone else who acquired it is vague. They simply want it.
[[/folder]]

[[folder: Web Original]]
* The Project Orwell software in series 1 of ''WebVideo/KateModern'', which is mysteriously absent from the second series.
* WebVideo/TheNostalgiaChick has a jar of mayonnaise that has been transformed into one by [[ExactlyWhatItSaysOnTheTin Lord [=MacGuffin=]]].
* The Tower of Pimps, a stack of four gold blocks on an obsidian block pedestal, in ''Creator/RoosterTeeth'''s, "LetsPlay ''VideoGame/{{Minecraft}}''". Nothing fancy, just bragging rights material for whoever wins the challenge of the episode.
* The dimensional transponder in ''WebVideo/TheCartoonMan'' [[spoiler:which turns out to be [[ChekhovsGun a pen the characters found earlier.]]]] In the third movie, [[spoiler: the Glove of the Animator becomes one as well.]]
[[/folder]]
* This trope was featured in Episode 2 of the TV Tropes podcast ''Podcast/{{On the Tropes}}''.
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