"Fifteen million dollars is not money. It's a motive with a universal adaptor on it."A popular subtrope of the MacGuffin concept. Rather than make the MacGuffin be a piece of obscure technology, or the Chosen One brought back to life, it is quite simply a giant pile of cash. Because money has intrinsic and universal value, the viewer can instantly understand why it is that the characters are so determined to retrieve it. The problem with this trope is that it can't be generally used to power stories that involve things like the villain seeking world domination. As such, it tends to show up most often in mundane fiction, although a MacGuffin full of money can make characters who would otherwise be normal act kind of insane — compare Gold Fever. See also Mock Guffin, Briefcase Full of Money, Hate Plague, Zillion-Dollar Bill, Pirate Booty, Treasure Map and Dragon Hoard.
— Joe Sarno, The Way of the Gun
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- The eponymous treasure of Gold Roger in One Piece is very much a MacGuffin. Of course, while everyone assumes it's a vast fortune, the exact nature of it is arguably the greatest mystery in the series. It's merely the prestige of having been the only one since Roger to make it to the end of the world that will make whoever finds it the pirate king. In all likelihood, the actual treasure (as in silver and gold and all) aspect of the One Piece is probably rather not much. Speculations on what it could be range from a single piece of eight (It is ONE piece, after all) to a one piece bathing suit that Roger was fond of.
- An old Disney Ducks Comic Universe comic involves Donald knocking loose a concrete egg and discovering that the thing's actually filled with money. After cracking it open with a wrecking ball, he finds out it belongs to Uncle Scrooge, and he kept it around in case of emergency. Yes, it was his nest egg.
- In Hitman Annual #1, the MacGuffin is a coffin full of dollars. The story title? "A Coffin Full of Dollars".
- It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World has the characters spend much of the early part of the movie gradually progressing from "let's be reasonable" to "screw it, every man for himself" regarding the location of a cache they discover in the opening minutes.
- A Simple Plan is about a group of characters who find a wrecked plane full of cash (which turns out to be the ransom from a kidnapping).
- Ocean's Eleven uses this, though it differs from most Thief Caper films in that it was very specific money.
- Rat Race makes pure use of this trope. The object of the whole film is to be the first to reach and open a briefcase with two million dollars in it.
- Dumb and Dumber centers around the protagonists trying to return a briefcase full of ransom money, which they picked up in the belief it was left behind by mistake. Once they spend it all on luxuries, it becomes a briefcase full of IOUs instead - and they can't understand why the bad guys won't accept those, since they're practically the same thing.
- Millions is about a 7-year-old boy who finds a duffel bag full of money, and what he and his brother do with it.
- This is the basis of several Coen Brothers films including No Country for Old Men, Fargo, The Big Lebowski and Blood Simple..
- In No Country for Old Men, at a few points, characters end up needing to spend some of it after getting themselves in a tight spot.
- In Lebowski's case the briefcase was actually full of phone books from the beginning, and the money had already been embezzled.
- The Nazi Gold in Kelly's Heroes.
- The suitcase full of cash in Shallow Grave. The film is about a group of friends trying to cover up an accidental death in their apartment so they can keep said money.
- The Maltese Falcon looks like an ordinary statue, but only a few people know that it holds gems under its skin.
- The duffel bag of cash in Cold Comes the Night is what everyone is after.
- The Scapular which supposedly reveals the secret hiding place of the Treasure of The Black Coats.
- In The Twelve Chairs, the MacGuffin is a chair stuffed with diamond jewelry. To make things worse, there are the other eleven, which look the same.
- Subverted (kinda) in the Mistborn Trilogy. The atium cache is initially desired for its monetary value, but when they finally find it near the end of the last book, money of any sort is kind of worthless...
- In the end, it's still valuable, but because it's actually the "body" (read: power) of a god in metallic form, and the Big Bad (the god it was essentially scooped out of) wants to re-ingest it to get himself back to full strength. And because it's a powerful allomantic metal with great military value.
- The Stormlight Archive:
- A minor example in The Way of Kings. Each battle of the Shattered Plains (though not the war as a whole) is driven by the appearance of chasmfiend pupae, each of which contain an enormous gemstone. A "gemheart" represents a staggering amount of money, enough to fund an army for months, and also provides the gems that are used to magic up food for said armies. This has turned what was supposed to be a war for vengeance into just another contest between the nobles, which is extremely annoying for their soldiers, who are dying in droves on a daily basis.
- In Kaladin's backstory, when the citylord died he left a large amount of money to Kaladin's family in order to pay for Kaladin's education as a surgeon. The new citylord wants the money and keeps trying to find ways to get it, such as making the other villagers think that they'll be rewarded if they steal them for him, or suggesting that Kaladin's parents shouldn't be paid for work. This gets worse when it turns out Kaladin's father really did steal the money. He forged the old citylord's will, but insists that if the man had been lucid in his last moments, he would have done so on his own.
Live Action TV
- Leverage: "The Homecoming Job" ends up being a shipping container full of stolen cash from Iraq. In this case the money isn't really what's important - the two bad guys, a congressman and CEO for some Private Military Contractors, have plenty - it's the fact that it's cash, which makes it a giant, untraceable slush fund.
- MacGyver: In "Three for the Road", the MacGuffin is a satchel full of Counterfeit Cash that the crooks are attempting to retrieve. Any kind of valuable contraband could have served the same purpose.
- Fiasco has quite a few playsets where a possible Object is a container of some description stuffed with cash or other valuable material, such as diamonds or gold dust. It goes so far as to quote Joe Sarno of The Way of the Gun in a page describing what Objects add to the game:
Fifteen million dollars is not money. It's a motive with a universal adapter on it.
- Harpagon's cash-box with a ten thousand crowns in The Miser.
- The Philosopher's Legacy in Metal Gear Solid 3 is a microfilm with details of bank accounts containing a colossal amount of money (described as "one hundred billion dollars" or "[...] enough to fight the war five times over". Enough, in fact, that despite the usual trapping of this trope, the group that gets their hands on it does take over the world.
- In the first Yakuza, 10 Billion Yen disappears from the Tojo Clan's vault, sending Tokyo teetering on the brink of open gang warfare as everyone hunts down the missing money.
- In the third case of Dangan Ronpa, Monokuma offers ten billion yen to the first student to murder a classmate and escape the school. As it turns out, the killer in that case never cared about the money and just really wanted out.
- Fallout 2 features a treasure that's stuck down in a well — a load of cash! After buttering up the ghoul that buried it for its location and hiring a treasure hunter to help find it, the Chosen One gets their hands on 10,000 bottlecaps—which was an incredibly valuable treasure about 80 years ago while bottlecaps were legal tender, but became worthless when enough technology was restored to make new caps, forcing the NCR to re-open a number of gold mines. Hope the Chosen One held on to them, as the Brotherhood of Steel blew those mines up just a few years later, forcing people back to bottle caps again.
- The Diamond in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials & Tribulations. It's worth 2 million dolars and serves as motivation for Mellisa Foster's start of darkness. That's all that is important about it.
- Fillmore!: The briefcase full of smoits (tokens found on dairy bars and packets of chips and used to buy basically anything a kid could want once enough of them are saved up) serves this function "The Currency of Doubt".