When someone wants an important Plot Device, one trick is to make a replica of the object, with the intent of tricking the opponent into thinking that the phony is the real McCoy. This can resolve a Hostage for MacGuffin situation: The hero reluctantly hands over the object (which, by the way, might or might not be a MacGuffin), the audience facepalms, the villain gloats... and then it turns out that the object the hero handed over was actually a fake. The effect of the fake object will vary: sometimes it will destroy the villain when he tries to use it, or even bestow the mysterious boon he was trying to steal on the hero instead; sometimes, of course, it will merely do nothing at all. Hopefully, the existence of the phony will have been set up in advance, and some effort will be expended to explain why the villain doesn't immediately notice it's a phony. Not to be confused with Mock Guffin, when it turns out in the end that the MacGuffin everybody has been chasing is a fake, and there is no "real" MacGuffin. Usually, the audience doesn't find out that the villain's got a phony until the villain does (or until the hero reassures his sidekick), so unmarked spoilers abound.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Striker S, there is a struggle over a case containng a relic. At the end, the Numbers seem to make off with it, to shock from all sides. Then, after they've left... Teana and Subaru reveal that, actually, they took the relic out of the case and hid it in Caro's hat — all the Numbers have is an empty case.
- In The Castle of Cagliostro, Lupin makes a copy of the ring with a microtransponder inside, so as to trick and then taunt the Count. He's seen making it shortly before the Count's assassins attack the room he rented.
- Buck Godot: PSmIth: After Buck is obliged to hand over the MacGuffin he was hired to guard, he reveals that he had a copy made and it was the copy he handed over. Or did he hand over the real one, and this is the copy...?
- Villainous example: The Joker pulls one of these to get his hands on the all-powerful "worlogog" in a Justice League story.
- Green Lantern does this periodically. Somebody demands that he hand over his ring, and he appears to do so, sometimes with the villain even creating constructs... and then once he skedaddles, he reveals to the reader and/or a person nearby wondering why he isn't concerned that the ring he handed over was actually a construct and the real ring is still on his finger and invisible, and that the fake ring will fade away after an hour or so.
- In Fallen King, Joey bluffs Pegasus's guards by throwing a piece of stone off the tower and pretending it's the Millennium Puzzle.
- Cloak & Dagger: When Davey's friend is kidnapped by the villains, and they demand the game cartridge (which has government secrets hidden on an extra chip), Jack Flack advises Davey to steal ("Requisition necessary mission equipment") a cartridge of the same title from the video game store, and use that in the exchange. It works, and Kim is released, but when Rice sees the sticker for the store on the back of the cartridge, the chase is on.
- Hudson Hawk: Eddie is forced to put together the pieces of the critical element of Leonardo da Vinci's gold-making machine (which the villains have been pursuing throughout the movie). However, he leaves out one crucial part, which eventually causes the machine to malfunction and explode.
- In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the real Holy Grail is hidden among a whole table of fakes. Elsa presents Donovan with one of the false Grails, leading to his demise, as drinking from a false Grail is deadly.
- Played with in the first Mission: Impossible movie: The protagonist hands a disk over, then convinces his rival that it was a fake so he throws it away, then picks it up from the trash, revealing that it was real after all.
- In National Treasure Ben was able to slip the baddies a souvenir Declaration of Independence instead of the real thing.
- Also happens in National Treasure 2.
- Ronin has the protagonists attempting to steal a silver briefcase. The first time they try to steal it, it turns out to be a decoy with a bomb inside.
- In The Score, Nick Wells (anticipating a double-cross) swaps out the sceptre he was hired to steal for the axle they used as a stand-in during their trial runs, meaning that Teller ends up with nothing when he does betray him.
- Worse, Teller is the one who ends up being the main (and only) suspect. Nick gets away scott free.
- In the climax of Short Circuit, Johnny 5 makes a copy of himself to keep from getting destroyed by the army.
- At the end of Sneakers, when the NSA attempts to confiscate the MacGuffin, Marty hands it over, telling them "It doesn't work. It never did" — and, after they've gone, reveals to his colleagues that he's kept the true MacGuffin, the one component that makes the thing work.
- In Super Mario Bros., Mario holds some shoelaces in a way that suggests that he has the meteorite piece pendant, and taunts Koopa with it. Only when Lena attempts to merge the worlds with the real rock does Koopa realize Mario was tricking him.
- The climax of 21 has the professor take the bag of chips the team has just won while they are fleeing the casino. After he has apparently abandoned the other team members, he discovers the bag contains only chocolate coins.
- In Dude, Where's My Car?, everyone is after the Continuum Transfunctioner. The only thing that everyone knows about it is that it is "a very mysterious and powerful device" and that "its mystery is exceeded only by its power". At the end, the protagonists need to find it in order to free their girlfriends from "space nerds". One of them suddenly realizes that no one has told them what the damn thing is supposed to look like. So they redeem their arcade tickets for a flashing toy and call all the interested parties. The ruse is quickly revealed when the real Guardians of the Continuum Transfunctioner recognize it as a fake and when a bunch of kids walk past with the exact same toy.
- In The Thieves, Popie has a fake version of the 'Tear of the Sun' diamond to swap for the real one. Yenicall has a second one made secretly and when Popie tries to steal the original, he ends up with the second fake.
- In Octopussy, the villains create fake Faberge eggs to swap out for the real ones they are selling to finance their schemes. After it becomes necessary to reclaim on of the real eggs, Kamal Khan claims it is one of the fakes only to wince in horror as his partner General Orlov smashes it.
- In Seven Ancient Wonders by Matthew Reilly, the villain is trying to complete a ritual that will give him awesome power, in which a box of sand from his homeland will play a key part. The hero is a globetrotting adventurer who always carries with him, as a reminder of home, a jar of his own home soil. I don't think I need to spell out what happens, do I?
- Explorers of Gor. Long story short(er), Shaba the Cartographer has an Invisibility ring captured from the Kurii which he was supposed to deliver to the Priest-Kings, but he (seemingly) turned traitor and was going to deliver an exploding ring instead & return the real ring back to the Kurii. Except he kept the invisibility ring for himself to explore Darkest Gor. When both the Priest-King representative and the Kurii find him after his voyage of discovery they fight, and the Kurii capture the ring. But it turns out the get the wrong ring. Earth-Shattering Kaboom ensues.
- In one of The Three Investigators books the bad guy wants a journal that the boys have which was written in the mid 1800s, with potential clues to a Buried Treasure. Jupiter hands it over, then after the bad guy leaves he reveals that he only gave up the oilskin cover of the journal, having taken the pages out first.
- In The Dresden Files short story "The Warrior" Harry leaves a fake Sword of The Cross on the front seat of his Beetle. The 'Sword' gets stolen, then Harry uses a tracking spell to find it again.
- The fake Horcrux at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is an example of this gone wrong: Regulus Black replaces one of the Horcruxes with a fake in an attempt to bring down Voldemort, but instead it backfires on our heroes when they gather the Horcruxes in their own attempt to bring down Voldemort.
- Redwall: As part of a plan to recover the tapestry of Martin, Jess distracts Cluny with a crude fake. He realizes this as soon as she gives it to him, but by then it's too late.
- In The Burglar in the Rye by Laurence Block, Bernie Rhodenbarr is hired to steal the personal correspondence of a very thinly disguised J.D. Salinger from the other correspondent by an even more thinly disguised Joyce Maynard. After the theft, other interested parties come looking for the letters. Bernie eventually colludes with the author to put together several fake sets of letters and distribute them amongst the group.
- Inverted in The Crown of Dalemark by Diana Wynne Jones. Mitt goes to Aberath to steal the Adon's ring, which is reputed to fit anyone of royal blood. Alk gives him the ring and also a copy, which has no such magical properties. Mitt gives the real ring to Maewen (who is pretending to be the heir to the throne, but really isn't) and keeps the copy, which fits him. Later it turns out that Alk switched the two rings. Guess who ends up wearing the crown.
Live Action TV
- In the Blood Ties episode "Norman", the heroes Vicki and Henry are forced to give a magic dagger to the demonic villain Norman when he kidnaps Vicki's secretary and holds her hostage. Norman needed the dagger to complete a spell to release the uber demon Asteroth into the world. However, unknown to the audience, Vicki and Henry had first taken the dagger to a priest to have it blessed before they gave it to Norman, so that when he used it, his spell of summoning failed and he was sucked back down to Hell.
- Burn Notice: Michael doesn't trust a thief he's forced to work with, because she's framing him for a murder, so he gives her a canister full of fake nerve gas (tear gas And Some Other Stuff), and takes the real stuff, keeping her under the illusion that it's fake.
- Doctor Who
- In The Keys of Marinus, the Doctor and his companions find a fake Key along with the five real ones. When the villain tries to get the Keys off them at the end of the story, they give him four real Keys and the fake, and he gets blown up when he tries to use them.
- Also used in The Daleks' Master Plan, where the Doctor steals the power source of the Daleks' Doomsday Device. By the time they catch him, he's made a fake to offer them in exchange for his freedom.
- Hilariously inverted in Season 1 of Warehouse 13. MacPherson enlisted a brainwashed Leena to take Harriet Tubman's thimble and an ear-splitting goblet from the Warehouse's shelves; he left behind an ordinary thimble and a plastic sippy-cup. It worked.
- Leverage: In "The First David Job", the team is trying to get Nate's old boss to buy a fake first David. Then he asks Nate's ex-wife to verify it. Since she's too good to be fooled by any forgery, they now have to steal the second David and substitute it for their fake.
- Devil May Cry 2. Big Bad Arius is after four artifacts known as Arcana so he can revive the Demon World's former king (Argosax the Chaos) and absorb his power. Although she puts up a valiant fight, Lucia is defeated and held hostage by Arius, and Dante (who has all of the Arcana in his possession) comes to her rescue; Arius asks for the items in exchange for Lucia. Things get wonky from here: Dante is quick to hand over the Arcana, but then hands Arius his ass. Arius then manages to escape with the Arcana by playing up Lucia's temporary damsel in distress status as he blows up his stronghold. When Arius initiates the resurrection ceremony, he fails. Dante then coolly walks onto the scene and reveals that he played Arius like a chump by switching the Arcana Medaglia with his own lucky coin, playing this trope straight again.
- Drakensang: After recovering the Dragon's Eye from Castle Grimtooth, the party is confronted by the Big Bad Malgorra and her servants, who are holding hostage the young son of Traldar, the owner of the castle. In order to save him, you must hand over the Eye to Malgorra, but is later revealed that it was a fake all along and that Traldar kept the real one on him.
- In Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, the heroes create a false Beanstar to give to Fawful and Cackletta... but they don't fall for it, instead discarding the fake and taking the real one by force.
- However, one that actually does work is at the very start of the game, although it's not revealed until later - the Princess Peach whose voice was stolen by Cackletta was a decoy, and the real Princess was hidden.
- Metal Gear Solid 3: EVA seduces Snake, steals the microfilm you've been chasing for the whole plot and reveals herself as a Chinese double agent. Then it's revealed that Ocelot was a CIA double agent, switched Snake's microfilm with a fake, and took the real one back to the CIA himself.
- In the old Mac game The Dungeon Revealed, your quest is to recover the Orb of Carnos from the 40th and lowest floor of the Dark Wizard's lair. Many players made it all the way there and back, only to learn that they'd neglected to perform an Identify spell and were holding a cheap plastic ball he set out as a decoy.
- In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, the Crystal Star in Poshley Heights is displayed in plain sight and is the only one like that. Beldam and her sisters, who had spent the previous three days trailing Mario, nab it before Mario can get to it. It turns out this one is a fake; Inspector Pennington, who runs the display, actually let them take it to get them away from there, then leads Mario to the real one.
- It's possible to Out Gambit two parties of Drow in Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn with a pair of Dragon Eggs. Whether or not you achieve this depends on your Int score however..
- In Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic tries to slip Eggman a fake Chaos Emerald, but Eggman is able to detect the two separate emeralds with a scanner, and bluffs Tails into blowing the secret. The fake has "the same wavelength and properties" as a real Chaos Emerald, but is "less powerful". Sonic later uses the fake to perform a Chaos Control. This works, even though it's not a real Emerald.
- In the first of the Thief games, which are entirely based around stealth, this is how you defeat the final boss. As he is preparing his ritual, you sneak into his altar room and swap out The Eye for a fake eye to cause his ritual to blow up in his face instead of summoning chaos to the world.
- One of the eggs in Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy is mysteriously swapped out when it is time to use them. Naturally, the antagonists took it and use it to lure the heroes to their Nest.
- In Final Fantasy Tactics, Mustadio's father is held captive and the ransom is one of the Zodiac Stones. Mustadio, however, had planned for something like this and had hidden a fake Zodiac Stone near his house.
- In Modern Day Treasure Seekers, Cade attempts to try to trick the bad guys into taking an empty treasure box in exchange for Sam's release, when he already hid the gem under his bed.
- Grandmaster of Theft sees this happen in the second episode with a villain example. Narcissa rigged her challenge by not bringing the real Undine's Tear in the first place just in case she lost.
- Cassidy goes on to use said fake to her advantage to Out Gambit Narcissa back with her own weapon. However, the second time she tries this trick with Deus, he's more than aware she was going to do it and shots the fake before requesting the real one.
- In the American Dad! episode "Black Mystery Month", Steve does this with a jar of peanut butter. Stan tried to do it, too, but failed, because he thought they would switch themselves via magic.
- Happens a couple of times in Lilo & Stitch: The Series. At one point, Stitch switches a capsule containing an invisible invisibility-experiment for an empty capsule to fool Gantu, and in another, a shape-shifted guest star is substituted for a shape-shifting experiment.
- On Space Stars, in the Teen Force short "Wordstar", Moleculad turns an asteroid into a fake Wordstar to give to Uglor after Elektra acquires the real one.
- Used in one episode of TMNT: Fast Forward, in which the MacGuffin in question is a piece of revolutionary technology which, by coincidence, looks suspiciously like a coffee maker. Donny switches it for an actual coffee maker because he (correctly) suspects that Torben Zixx's motive for getting the turtles to help him steal it are less altruistic than he claims.
- In Barbie & The Diamond Castle, Liana leaves a normal mirror for Slyder to retrieve while Alexa keeps Melody's mirror safe.
- In the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero episode "The Spy Who Rooked Me", the Joes are tasked with helping a British spy deliver a container of nerve gas to a secure facility. Cobra wants the gas and in the process the container is breached. Flint throws himself onto the leaking container, at which point the secret agent reveals their container is just a bottle of cream soda. The real nerve gas had been transported in a more conventional way, and the Joes were just a decoy.