Magnum Opus

"Plaything? I should say not. It is my egg sac, my magnum opus."
"I don't know what a 'magnum opus' is," said Wilbur.
"That's Latin," explained Charlotte. "It means 'great work.' This egg sac is my great work the finest thing I have ever made."

The term "magnum opus" is Latin for "great work," and is usually used to refer to a work of particularly great ambition, scope, and scale and exceptional quality considered to be the creator's greatest and most renowned work. It is a pinnacle of creative achievement that every artist dreams of reaching and few ever do.

Such a work often represents the culmination of years of painstaking work and toil, and as such, its creation is rife with dramatic possibilities. Characters striving to produce such perfection may fall victim to obsession and neglect their families, social lives, more-lucrative but less-rewarding careers, or even their very health and well-being in their quest. Once their opus is completed, the artist may fall victim to Magnum Opus Dissonance if the public doesn't give their work the accolades they feel it deserves.

Even if the work itself is an unmitigated success, the artist may find it a Tough Act to Follow; more than one has retired or changed careers after such a momentous undertaking, but finding a new purpose in life after dedicating oneself so fully to such a massive project can prove a challenge in and of itself. On the other hand, in many stories the successful completion of a magnum opus after many trials and tribulations is a Happy Ending and potential Crowning Moment of Heartwarming.

In-Universe Examples Only:

    open/close all folders 

  • In Barton Fink, the title character believes he has created his greatest work when he writes a screenplay for a wrestling film starring Wallace Beery that is full of the same themes of social consciousness he has tried to address in his stage plays. Unfortunately, his studio bosses wanted him to write a Strictly Formula wrestling film, and his screenplay gets his supervisor fired and Fink himself locked into a contract in which he is promised that none of his scripts will be produced.
  • Mr. Holland's Opus tells the story of Glenn Holland, a composer and high school music teacher who struggles to meet the competing demands of his family, his teaching career, and the creation of a symphony that he considers his life's work. By the time he completes his symphony, it appears he will be unable to find the financial backing to ever hear it performed. In the end, many of his former students and colleagues secretly gather on the day of his forced retirement from teaching and surprise him by performing his symphony for him. The question of whether the "Mr. Holland's opus" of the title refers to the symphony itself or the sum of all the lives he has touched over his career is left as an exercise for the viewer.
  • In Walk Hard, Dewey Cox spends much of his musical career and, indeed, much of his life working on his magnum opus "Beautiful Ride," a song that encompasses an entire lifetime of ups and downs and which is so grand in scope that at various points in its creation it requires a veritable army of singers, musicians, and barnyard animals to perform it. Indeed, it is such a crowning achievement in Cox's life that, after its first and only live performance, he drops dead, his life's work complete.'

  • In Charlottes Web, Charlotte the spider describes her egg sac as her magnum opus, the finest thing she has ever made. Or, as it turns out, will ever make, as she dies, as spiders do, shortly after producing it.

     Live-Action TV 
  • In the Blackadder the Third episode "Ink and Incapability," Blackadder spends seven years writing Edmund: A Butler's Tale, "a giant rollercoaster of a novel in four hundred sizzling chapters, a searing indictment of domestic servitude in the eighteenth century, with some hot gypsies thrown in," and describes it as his magnum opus. (Followed immediately by a parody in which Baldrick produces his "magnificent octopus", which, as he doesn't like long books, reads simply, "Once upon a time, there was a lovely little sausage called Baldrick, and he lived happily ever after.") And Samuel Johnson agrees that Blackadder's book is a masterpiece, pronouncing it the only book superior to his dictionary. A pity he's the only person besides Blackadder who ever gets to read it before a misunderstanding leads Baldrick to throw it on the fire...

     Western Animation 
  • In the Rockos Modern Life episode "Wacky Delly", successful animator Ralph Bighead wants to get out of the animation business to make "real art", and Hilarity Ensues. The episode ends in a Flash Forward showing Ralph after he has complete his life's master work, a still life of wine and fruit carved into a mountain a la Mount Rushmore. The subtitles tell the viewer that its creation has taken ten years, although judging from Ralph's mop of white hair and long white beard, those years have taken a toll on him. Nevertheless, he is ecstatic to see his life's work completed... until a passing hillbilly says that it's not bad, but also not as good as Wacky Delly, the show that Ralph had spent the episode up until that point attempting to make as bad as possible in an attempt to get fired from his animation contract.