Living MacGuffin

I'm not the only girl on Earth, ya know.
"She could have been a briefcase and nothing would have changed in this movie."
Miles Antwiler, discussing Rayne's role in BloodRayne: The Third Reich

They say Helen of Troy had a face that could launch a thousand ships: well, the Living MacGuffin has a similar ability to launch a thousand quests in search of them. She may be a heart wrenchingly beautiful princess whose hand can only be won with miraculous feats, a long lost (or left) parent, sibling, close friend or Love Interest, some variation of The Chosen One who is needed for some greater purpose, or any number of typical MacGuffin functions.

Subtropes include:


Examples:

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     Anime and Manga  
  • Saint Seiya: Seiya's sister Seika was played up as this, despite only turning up at the end of the series and not appearing in the sequel, yet.
  • Saint Seiya Next Dimension: Saori becomes one after she is transformed into a baby.
  • While it's debatable whether the torches in Shakugan no Shana are "alive", Yuuji Sakai is generally treated as living by the main characters. That's partially because unlike other torches, he isn't going to just go out one day. But it's also because he's managed to validate his humanity, even before he found out he wasn't going to become Ret Gone.
  • Insane Casca during the Retribution arc in Berserk. Not only does Guts, who has a right to her being her protector, want her, but everybody is taking Casca in this arc, primarily the pagans who want to make her their queen and the Holy See who want to burn her at the stake.
  • Naruto. Sasuke becomes this after he leaves the Leaf Village. Jinchurikis provide a straighter example.

     Comic Books  

     Fairy Tales  
  • Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, and many other fairy tale heroines were Living MacGuffins in the Disney films and in those iterations of these fairy tales inspired by the Disneyfication. In the pre-Disney versions of those fairy tales, the nameless prince was the Living MacGuffin; for example, Cinderella competed with her wicked stepsisters for the hand of the prince, who is treated as a non-entity who exists in the story only to provide the winner with a castle, title, and wealth.

    Fan Works 

     Film  
  • The Pirates! Band of Misfits: The dodo bird.
  • Troy is a subversion. It is established early on that Agamemnon is only using Helen as an excuse to wage war on the city. At one point Helen says she would give herself up to prevent further violence, but Hector makes it clear that even if she did, it would not end anything. Agamemnon even says that he didn't come here for Helen, but for Troy.
  • In The Darjeeling Limited, the brothers use a trip to find their long left mother to tell her about their father's death and try to bond with each other. Another long lost mother variation of the living MacGuffin is Mike's mother in My Own Private Idaho, whom he never finds.
  • The monster in Cloverfield. The movie is mostly uninterested in the monster itself, and more in its effects.
  • Zuzu Petals in The Adventures of Ford Fairlane. Everyone Ford meets in the first act tells him to find her, and that's his motivation until he does, at which point it becomes clear she's not even involved in what's going on. After that she's more of an Escort Mission, albeit one attended begrudgingly.
    Ford: Don't worry. If you fall, I'll make it.
  • TRON: Legacy: Quorra is The Last ISO.
  • The hobo in Mystery Team.
  • In El Dorado, the evil rancher Bart Jason.
  • The 2007 film version of Sweeney Todd portrayed Johanna Barker as this, especially as they cut most of her songs and speaking parts from the original musical.
  • Luke Skywalker becomes one in The Force Awakens, having disappeared many years prior, and with the main conflict of the film being over a map to his location.

     Literature  
  • Older Than Feudalism: Helen of Troy from The Iliad is a prime example. Helen wasn't attacked by Paris or the Trojans during the whole war, and in fact went willingly because she fell in love with Paris. Or was made to, by Aphrodite.
  • Queen Guinevere is also not in distress, as most versions have her go willingly with Lancelot. The whole kingdom goes down because the vassals have to choose sides, help Arthur get her back, or help Lancelot keep her.
    • Most of the variations this troper has encountered have the vassals torn between personal loyalty to Arthur (who would pardon his beloved and his best friend, despite the pain they have caused him) and loyalty to the law itself which demands she and Lancelot be tried for treason against their king (with the lawful side being spear-headed/manipulated by one enemy or another of Arthur's).
  • The French chef Anatole in P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster stories; the universal desire to lay claim to his peerless talents led to the hatching of many a Zany Scheme.
    • Jeeves himself is highly sought-after; Bertie notes that plenty of his friends want to steal him and make him their valet, and this is borne out in Thank You, Jeeves when Jeeves quits and Bertie's pal Chuffy snatches him up almost instantly. Later in the book, Jeeves goes to work for American multimillionaire J. Washburn Stoker, who offers him a position, before returning to Chuffy and finally settling down with Bertie again.
  • A few crop up during the course of the Prydain Chronicles — Hen Wen the pig in The Book of Three, Princess Eilonwy in The Castle of Llyr, and Taran's long-lost parents in Taran Wanderer.
  • In Tobias Buckell's Crystal Rain, Oaxyctl is looking for John deBrun because he wants to torture "the code" to a spaceship out of him. We later find out that John is the code — he has to be bodily present (and alive) to open the spaceship.
  • It could be argued that The White Rabbit is one. The entire reason Alice ends up in Wonderland is her curiosity about the Rabbit. And it's often the Rabbit, constantly hurrying from one place to the next, which brings her from scene to scene.
  • Bree Pym is this for Lori and Bill's college chum Cameron; they spend most of the novel Aunt Dimity Down Under pursuing the girl over New Zealand's North and South Islands to deliver the Pym sisters' letter and convince her to meet Ruth and Louise before they die.
  • Deconstructed in the Sword of Truth: while fully half of the main cast are some level of this trope, the Confessors have it notably bad. Confessors can't control their ability during moments of passion (read: sex), so they can't have kids with someone they like, or they'll destroy their mind. Male confessors are such a threat that all male children of Confessors have to be strangled at birth, and for their troubles, the Confessors are feared and hated, and since they're raised secluded, have almost no friends. By the time Kahlan met Richard, all of her few friends had been murdered by D'Haran assassination teams. Yeesh.
    • Wizards are able to create these in general; the Rahl bloodline is the result of such an experiment, as are Slides, Dreamwalkers, Mriswith, the Sliph, and a whole host of other exciting pieces of work.

     Live-Action TV  
  • Towards the end of Maddigan's Quest, it's revealed that Jewel, not the talisman, is what gives Eden his powers.
  • Mr. Big in Sex and the City, to the point that they don't even bother to give him a real name. You find yourself wondering what is wrong with Carrie Bradshaw and then you remember ... oh yeah, she's Carrie Bradshaw.

     Video Games  
  • Lampshaded in Red Dead Redemption where in a co-op mission you must rescue the daughter of "Farmer MacGuffin."
  • Here's a negative version of the Living MacGuffin: Sephiroth during the first half of Final Fantasy VII. Both Cloud's party and Shin-Ra are hell-bent on finding the guy, and he acts as the game's main antagonist to boot.
  • At the beginning of Yoshis Island, Kamek kidnaps Baby Luigi (who becomes the Distressed Dude), but the stork forces Kamek to drop Baby Mario, who falls onto Yoshi. Baby Mario becomes a free MacGuffin, whose only role is to point the way to Baby Luigi, while the Yoshis perform the MacGuffin Escort Mission that will reunite the babies and rescue Baby Luigi.
    • Then in Yoshi's Island DS, Kamek and the Toadies kidnap Baby Luigi again, and several more babies. The Big Bad (adult Bowser from the future) is searching for the seven star children.note  The villain never gets all seven; some remain free. The star children turn out to be Baby Mario, Baby Luigi, Baby Peach, Baby Donkey Kong, Baby Wario, Baby Bowser, and Baby Yoshi. The last two were never captives; Baby Yoshi is still in the egg, and hatches at the very end of the credits.
  • The Princesses of Heart in Kingdom Hearts.
    • Ventus in Master Xehanort's first attempt to snag Kingdom Hearts.
  • In the Neverwinter Nights fan-made module The Bastard Of Kosigan, Alex is a mix of this and Damsel in Distress. And a Chekhov's Gunman at the end. Annoyingly, despite being one of the coolest characters in the series (as evinced by her cunning plan to take over Kosigan by killing the entire ruling family), if you didn't choose to kill her at the end of the second module she dies near the end of the fourth.
  • In BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger, Ragna the Bloodedge is treated this way since he supposedly wields the Azure Grimoire. In the sequel Continuum Shift Noel gets this treatment after it's revealed that she is the true wielder of the Azure Grimoire and Ragna's Grimoire is a flawed imitation.
  • A variant occurs in Professor Layton and the Curious Village. Layton knows that he needs to find the Golden Apple of Baron Reinhold. What he doesn't know is that the Golden Apple is really Flora, the Baron's daughter.
  • Prince Alexander is a sucker for this one. In his first game, he spends half of it trying to find a way to off his Bad Boss before Bad Boss offs him. The second half of the game comes when the Oracle tells him that he's got a twin sister that's soon to meet her end as a Human Sacrifice. In his second game, he's trying to reach the Princess he's fallen for before the Grand Vizier pulls a scheme to marry her, kill her, and take the throne for himself. Runs in the family, as that's how his dad went looking for his mom...
  • Similar to the TRON: Legacy example above, Tron 2.0 had this in the form of Ma3a, who carried the correction algorithims needed for Jet and Alan to get back to the analog world. However, the terrible trio from F-Con were also seeking those algorithims in order to digitize an army into cyberspace and Take Over the World.
  • Ryu from Street Fighter is treated this way for most of his plot involvement. Bison is after him in Street Fighter Alpha to use him as a new host body while Seth wants to use his Satsui no Hadou to complete his bio weapon.
  • The Destined Children from Romancing SaGa 3 The Abyss Lords want them to open the gate to the Abyss so they can escape. Both also serve to summon the Destroyer to end existence if both are in the abyss at once. Abyss Lords used the Devil King for them to rule the world for 3 centuries before the Holy King sent them packing.
  • In Mac Guffins Curse, Alphonse becomes a Living MacGuffin when he turns into a werewolf himself and goes on a rampage.
  • Princess Zelda in The Legend of Zelda is a very strong example of this trope. In fact, Word Of God says that Zelda is the title character because of how crucial she is in Link's adventures.
    • A humorous variant appears in Zelda II The Adventure Of Link. In one of the towns Link must visit on his quest, he is begged to recover a child, who has been kidnapped and may be found in a nearby cave. The reason it's humorous is because the game treats the child like any other inventory item - including having Link lift it over his head in his traditional Item Get pose.
  • Buddy is this in Lisa, being the only female left on Earth after a mysterious event known as the Great White Flash wiped all the women off the planet. The fact that she is treated as such without care for her feelings or mental state forms most of her motivation as a character, especially in the DLC story.

     Visual Novels  
  • Charlie in Shikkoku No Sharnoth serves largely as comatose Macguffin to make Mary go through the plot. Except in the end, when she's actually an opponent.

     Webcomics  
  • In A Moment of Peace, the subject of one of the gods' quests is a glowing entity named Gloria on the Mountain.

Alternative Title(s):

The Presidents Daughter, Lady Mac Guffin, Macguffin Boy, Mac Guffin Man, Mac Guffin Guy, Mac Guffin Person, Holy Child, Mac Guffin Girl