No MacGuffin, No Winner

aka: Detente Comrade
"That's détente, comrade. You don't have it, I don't have it."

When a MacGuffin or Plot Device is removed entirely from the equation at the end story with neither side possessing it, resulting in the plot equivalent of a no-score draw with the heroes usually getting the Man Of The Match award. Not like it matters, though. The story has officially gone nowhere.

Occasionally An Aesop: when two children are fighting over something in Real Life, the parents will often punish them by not letting either of them have it. (If it is an item, they will lock it away, sometimes even give it away; if it was an event, they will call it off.) This kind of punishment carries over to television, where the futility of a fight is often demonstrated by having it to turn out to have been in vain, with the goal taken away at the last minute or destroyed by the fighters themselves in the heat of the battle. In-universe, this will often work amazingly well as a lesson where after a few moments of Lying In The Dirt Together, the two former enemies will be inviting each other for drinks, no longer having a reason to fight, the whole business now a shared memory to look back on and laugh at. In real life, not so much — because, of course, it was the other kid's fault for starting the fight in the first place. Compare Nice Job Breaking It, Rivals.

The lost object is often (but not always) a MacGuffin; it isn't a MacGuffin if it did something else before being lost. The loss of the object can be Status Quo Is God and Reset Button Ending, in those cases where keeping the destroyed object would have a major effect on the work. If I Can't Have You is the Love Triangle equivalent. See also Shaggy Dog Story, where the object was never important after all... and Shoot the Shaggy Dog, when the characters' lives are ruined in the process. If one side can claim a "victory" by doing this, it overlaps with We Win Because You Didn't.

Compare Judgment of Solomon, when an impartial mediator threatens this in order to resolve the dispute, and No Man Should Have This Power, when one side chooses to destroy the object to prevent the enemy from getting his or her hands on it.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • All three routes of Fate/stay night end without the Grail being used; in one it is destroyed by the end, and in the other two it is destroyed later. In Fate/Zero, Emiya Kiritsugu could take it, but he realizes what it is and instead orders Saber to destroy it. When you look at the cast, though, you'll notice that several of the Masters and perhaps the majority of Servants don't actually care about the grail; several servants simply want a good fight or the chance to do something they were denied in life, and several masters joined for personal reasons either concerning the other masters (such as revenge or curiosity) or their ideals, or for familial reasons. In Zouken Matou's case, he's been after the Grail for so long that he's forgotten the entire reason he wanted it in the first place.
  • Franky from One Piece invoked this by burning the blueprints for Pluton, rationalizing that he'd rather ruin his own plans than help the World Government with theirs.

    Comic Books 
  • Occurs in a number of Carl Barks comic books, notably The Seven Cities of Cibola, in which the cities are buried by rocks and the ducks and Beagle Boys all suffer amnesia and completely forget their existence. In general, whenever Scrooge McDuck and one of his enemies compete for a treasure, a significant percentage of the time, it will end up being destroyed or in the hands of a third party, usually a native population.
    • Subverted in Don Rosa's first duck story, The Son of the Sun, in which Scrooge and Flintheart Glomgold compete for the treasure of an ancient Inca temple. By the end of the story, the temple falls into a nearly bottomless volcanic lake. Flintheart is ready to call it a tie, but Scrooge isn't. He proceeds to buy the lake. The McGuffin is still irretrievable, but technically it's in Scrooge's possession, so he wins.
  • Also by Disney: an Italian Mickey Mouse story, not published in America, has an "Incan corkscrew," with a key inside that opens a doorway to a place where the "Sun sprouts." After opening the door, Mickey closes it instead of entering, and throws the key away, so the "secret remains with the Incans."
  • In issues 217 and 218 of Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog comics, Sonic and Bunnie find themselves stuck in the middle of a fight over an oil refinery. Unable to choose between helping the local Dark Egg Legion chapter (led by Bunnie's beloved uncle) and the local group of Freedom Fighters (a bunch of fanatic Jerk Asses), they ultimately decide to just destroy the refinery, keeping either side from getting control of it.
  • Heavily subverted in Grandville. Near the end of the story, the voice recording that all the characters fought over is shattered before anyone can hear its contents. The subversion comes from LeBrock behaving as if the recording is still intact and he was privy to its contents. The threat of revealing the recording, and using the few bits of information he has to back his bluff, is enough to drive The Prime Minister of Britain to suicide.
  • Played with in an old issue of the Archie Comics. Archie and Reggie spend an entire issue fighting over who gets to take Veronica to a dance. Archie wins and goes to pick her up, only to find she's long since accepted the invitation of a third guy. Archie then takes a third option and invites Reggie to the dance, complete with giving him flowers and awkward glances from everyone else.

  • For Your Eyes OnlyJames Bond chooses to chuck the stolen ATAC off a cliff to prevent the Russians from getting their hands on it, which was enough to accomplish Bond's mission. Gogol has just wasted a considerable amount of resources on something he hasn't acquired, as well as losing several operatives. The British still have lost a spy trawler, at least three agents, one Lotus Espirit, and the ATAC, but have denied the Russians the ability to turn their own missiles against them.
  • In Roman Polanski film Frantic, Harrison Ford ends up throwing the MacGuffin, a small electronic switch used in the detonators of nuclear devices, into the river, so neither the Arabs or the Israelis get it.
  • The battle segment of The Good The Bad And The Ugly ends with Blondie and Tuco destroying the bridge (a Third Option the captain had suggested earlier) so that the armies will go elsewhere.
  • Indiana Jones and the Last CrusadeAlthough it's used to bring back Indy's dad, the Holy Grail ends up falling down a hole. Arguably, the former still gives Indy a slight lead in the points.
    • Similarly, in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Ark of the Covenant is confiscated by the US government and put in a crate with multiple locks marked "Do Not Open Under Any Circumstances." Yet again, however, getting the girl and the opportunity to see Rene Belloq die in his moment of supposed triumph is still a plus.
    • Even more similarly (sensing a pattern?), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ends with the titular crystal skull being reunited with the alien skeleton it was taken from, allowing the alien and its comrades to go back to their home dimension, meaning that no one can continue to study the psychic qualities it possesses. On the other hand, the adventure did reunite Indy and Marion, and ends with them being Happily Married.
  • It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World: The suitcase containing the $350,000 gets accidentally opened and the money falls into the streets below.
  • The Maltese Falcon: The bad guys get hold of the Falcon, but it turns out to be a fake. It's left open whether it was fake all along, or there's still a real Falcon out there somewhere.
  • In The Rocketeer, the US government, the Nazis, and organized crime are all trying to get their hands on the rocketpack. In the end, Cliff surreptitiously sabotages the rocketpack to prevent the lead Nazi agent making his getaway with it, and both Nazi and rocketpack go up in smoke, taking the LAND letters in the HOLLYWOODLAND sign with them. Although Cliff's friend Peevey has drawn plans for a new and improved version.
  • The 2007 Transformers film has Sam thrusting the AllSpark into Megatron's spark, destroying the cube and killing the villain at the same time.
    • Though in the sequel the remains still have some power, and put the plot into motion (one piece teaches Sam about Cybertron and reactivates Jetfire, and another resurrects Megatron).
  • The conclusion of the film Wishmaster depends on this: the protagonist is forced to make a third wish in order to stop the one djinn's rampage against her and her friends, but if she does he (and all the other djinn) will be freed to terrorize Earth. So she makes a wish that prevents the accident which caused the djinn's gem to be found in the first place in a Reset Button Ending.
  • Ice Station Zebra has this ending, where the Americans and the Russians are after film from a spy satellite that contains secrets both sides want. The Americans are outnumbered and outgunned, so they hit the self-destruct button. The Russian leader gracefully accepts the draw.

  • The titular Silmarils from The Silmarillion by JRR Tolkien. After 500 years of epic battle over the jewels, they are literally removed from the playing field. One is thrown into the sea, one ends up in the bowels of the Earth, and one in the heavens. Even the Valar don't have benefit of them, since they are no longer able to use their light to revive the Two Trees of Valinor.
  • The Sampo in the Finnish national epic Kalevala ends up shattered, although Väinämöinen does manage to use some of the pieces to improve the fertility of his country.
  • In The Elenium trilogy by David Eddings, Sparhawk and his companions spend the first two books chasing around after a large magical sapphire called the Bhelliom. Because of its powerful properties, the Bhelliom is sought by an evil god and his minions; a deformed troll named Ghwerig, who owned the jewel at one time, is trying to recover it; the Elene church, whom the Knights serve, also wants to lock it up; and as the sapphire had once been part of the crown jewels of the kingdom of Thalesia, they'd like it back. In the end, after they've done what they need to do with it, the goddess Aphrael has Sparhawk throw it into a distant ocean.
  • The Elder Wand from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows cannot be beaten in direct combat, has power much greater than that of a standard wand, and will only work for whoever defeats its previous master. Many witches and wizards have killed for it, but as the wand places its owner in constant danger, Harry chooses not to accept it, probably hoping that nobody with the ambition of getting the wand figures out that he's the current master and goes after him.
  • In the climax of the sixth book of the H.I.V.E. Series, Overlord declares to Otto, Laura, and Lucy that if he cannot have Earth, then no one will, and unlocks the container holding the nanites that are programmed only to reproduce.
  • Nest in Angel Fire East by Terry Brooks convinces the main villain that the unstable MacGuffin had self-destructed. She is lying.
  • Inverted in The Tightrope Men by Desmond Bagley, where the MacGuffin every intelligence agency has been fighting over is deliberately leaked to the Soviets to maintain the balance of power (e.g. to prevent humanity from "falling off" the tightrope).
  • Taken to its full cruelty potential in The Paul Street Boys, where two boy groups are fighting over the ownership of an empty building site that they use as a playground. The conflict gets completely out of hand, and in the climax a fever-stricken Ernő Nemecsek, the plucky underdog of his team, shows up to protect the playground at the cost of his life. When the boys return to the site, they learn that engineers have started building an apartment building on it.
  • Strange example in Skybreaker. The original MacGuffin is the wealth on board a ghost ship created by the inventor of more or less everything used in airships. Once they arrive, they can't find any of the expected money. Instead, the new MacGuffin is a fusion reactor and associated blueprints. That ends up at the bottom of the ocean, but the heroes end up with a Santa Sack of gold.
  • This is a reoccurring theme in the Chronicles of Prydain series. There are many items of power and magic in Prydain; however, mankind tended to kill each other over them until they were lost or useless. Arawn stole many magical labor-saving instruments, tools, and weapons from the people of the land simply to make sure they couldn't have them, with a prequel short story showing that he tricked several people out of them by exploiting their greed, and those items were all destroyed when his stronghold collapsed in the final book. A more low-key case involves two rival lords who constantly bicker over a pure-bred cow. Neither can actually remember who owned her to begin with, but keep going to war to steal her back. King Smoit finally has enough of it all and orders the cow taken for himself. Taran wisely advises him to instead give the cow to a humble farmer, whose lands had been destroyed in the latest fight. There's also an interesting variant with the Red Fallows, a stretch of land that was once incredibly fertile and fruitful. Because of the bloodshed over who owned it, the land was ruined and rendered useless (though it is implied that with some care, it might be made as it once was).
  • A rule in all Warhammer 40,000 novels which involve an STC.
  • Used in the Nightside series to resolve the conflict over the Unholy Grail: by using it to perform the Eucharist, Jude absolves it of its taint and it becomes an ordinary cup. Also used when John Taylor frees the quantum butterfly to stop powerful other-dimensional entities from messing up our world in their attempts to steal it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The 4th season finale of the new Doctor Who series featured a threat of this, where humanity attempted to destroy the Earth rather than letting it fall into the wrong hands.
    • The Doctor spends the entirety of Season 16 on a mission for the White Guardian, searching for a device of unimaginable power called the Key to Time. At the finale, the Black Guardian tries to trick the Doctor into giving it to him, so the Doctor scatters it around the universe one more without the White Guardian so much as seeing it. (Although it's possible that the White Guardian didn't need to be in possession of the Key in order to use its powers).
  • In The Outer Limits (1995) episode "Dead Man's Switch", humanity sets up several people in underground bunkers to ensure Earth becomes this, by launching all of our nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, if the incoming aliens are hostile.
  • The Babylon 5 episode "Deathwalker" ended with the titular character and her anti-agathic serum (an "immortality" serum) destroyed by the Vorlons, who simply remarked "You Are Not Ready for immortality".note 
  • Defiance: When Nolan realizes that both of the major powers only want Pol Madis in order to use his gifts for a potential future war against each other, rather than to execute him for his crimes in the Pale Wars, he keeps either side from getting him by gunning him down.

  • There's a protest song from The Sixties by the band Coven called One Tin Soldier. In it, the people of the valley slaughter the people of the mountain for their treasure (which the people of the mountain had offered to share). They find that the treasure is simply a message stating "peace on earth." Clearly, this is a parallel to the Vietnam war.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition module I12 Egg of the Phoenix. At the end of the module, the PCs recover the Egg from the Princes of Elemental Evil. The female titan Sylla says that the Egg is too powerful to be possessed by mortals and takes it away to a place where neither the forces of Evil nor mortal beings can find or reach it, so neither the forces of Good (represented by the PCs) nor the forces of Evil end up with it.

    Video Games 
  • In Final Fantasy XI, the San d'Orian missions end with the Weapon of Mass Destruction being taken to the afterlife by the ghost of King Ranperre.
  • One of the Demons' games in the Xanth series involved a prize which was in the end destroyed by the protagonist in order to prevent the other side from getting it.
  • Laharl eats a mystical herb in Disgaea 2, which apparently had wondrous powers that would have allowed the heroes to easily defeat Big Bad Xenon (or at least re-power Etna so she can curb stomp the bastard).
  • Used somewhat in the first case of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations when Young Phoenix Wright consumes a necklace that was used by Dahlia Hawthorne to poison a certain lawyer a few years back, which would have proved Dahlia guilty of the poisoning by examining the trace amounts of poison in the necklace. Of course, Mia solves the case anyway.
  • One of the possible endings in Dubloon. Your crew compensates with "a bond more valuable than the chest," however.
  • In one City of Villains mission, an Arbiter sends you to destroy a MacGuffin so that two Arachnos factions will stop fighting over it. (He specifically mentions the 'two kids fighting over a toy' analogy.) The souvenir you get from this mission is the MacGuffin, which you kept for yourself.
  • This is attempted by the heroes before the Final Boss battle in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, with them getting Peach and Starlow to destroy the Dream Stone to stop Bowser using it. It fails. Bowser just sucks up the remains with his vacuum ability and gets Reality Warper powers anyway.
  • At the end of Just Cause 2, Rico nukes Panau's massive oil supplies to stop the world's superpowers from squabbling over the world's greatest oil deposit with unnecessarily excessive force, bordering on escalation to World War III. As an example from the game, the agents from each interested superpower are mentally unstable or hell-bent on overkill; Zhang Sun throws enough explosives to bomb Mount Rushmore, Alexander Mirkov uses a tank and claymores on a skyscraper, Masayo Washio uses hovering drones to guide rocket-propelled missiles, and Rico... is Rico.

  • The Order of the Stick
    • This is the explanation for why someone installed a self-destruct rune in the Dungeon of Durokan. Even though destroying the gate there brings the world closer to potential annihilation, it's viewed as preferable to letting the power of the gate be harnessed by evil.
    • The same thing happened to Lirian's gate before the comic started, accidentally destroyed in the struggle to claim it, and the Azure City gate, deliberately destroyed to stop it falling into evil hands (ironically creating a distraction that allowed the evil to escape its imminent destruction in the process).
    • Much later, Roy decides to destroy Girard's gate for the same reason, aware that the party isn't strong enough to defend it.

    Western Animation 
  • In Xiaolin Showdown, Omi prefers to get rid of the Tiger claws by sending them to the core of the earth rather than having Katnappe getting them. He recovers them several episodes later when they are needed again, though.
    • Master Fung does something similar with a jade elephant to teach the kids a lesson. They learn it; when he offers another go with a different statue at the end, they wisely refuse.
    • The Hidoku Mouse, which is a Shen Gon Wu said to undo mistakes, which unfortunately for both the heroes and the villains, actually fell into a volcanic pit full of giant spiders and is presumably destroyed.
  • A Sitch in Time from Kim Possible ended with the destruction of the Time Monkey Idol, thus causing a Reset Button Ending to the entire movie.
  • Third season of Jackie Chan Adventures: Jackie attempts to destroy the MacGuffins of the first season by firing a laser at them. It only destroys the physical talismans - their powers seek out new hosts, setting the third season Macguffin-hunt in motion.
    • Also, in one episode he says of the current MacGuffin "This is too dangerous to be in a museum," and smashes it.
  • The resolution of the DuckTales episode Master of the Djinni. Archenemies Scrooge and Glomgold discover a Jackass Genie and compete for the rest of the episode over who is to be its master. Glomgold wins the contest and immediately abuses his newfound power, but when he fails to watch his choice of words around the genie, he ends up stuck in the same predicament he wished Scrooge into, causing him to "wish he'd never found that blasted lamp." The episode resets, only this time, the Vault of Aladdin caves in, leaving the lamp (and its occupant) buried for eternity.
  • Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "The Slaver Weapon." Both the Starfleet personnel and the Kzinti renegades want to get the titular Lost Technology because of its awesome power: a beam that causes total conversion of matter into energy.
    Sulu: It would have looked nice in some museum.
    Spock: It never would have reached a museum, Lieutenant. There was too much power in that one setting. If not the Kzinti, the Klingons or some other species would have tried to possess it.
  • In the conclusion of A Knight of Shadows, J'onn destroys the MacGuffin because "the price was too great" to give in to temptation to use it or hand it over to the episode's Big Bad.
  • Done unintentionally in the Transformers episode "The Golden Lagoon". The MacGuffin is a lake that makes any Transformer who bathes in it temporarily invincible. By the time the Autobots and Decepticons finish battling over it, both the lake and the entire area in which the lake is located have been destroyed. Beachcomber, who had originally found the lake, looks at the devastation and bitterly declares that they had won.
  • The Encryptor Chip from Cyberchase. Because the original Chip has been destroyed by The Hacker's virus on Mother Board, Dr. Marbles has since been desperate in search for a new one. Unfortunately, whenever a new Encryptor Chip shows up, it's always destroyed in the end.
  • In the second to last storyline of Season 3 Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Osi Sobeck, Prison Warden of the Citadel, attempted to pull this by killing Captain Tarkin, who carried half of the coordinates of a secret hyperspace-route. He was saved by Ahsoka.
  • In Young Justice this is Black Beetle's point of view. "A resource that falls into the hands of the enemy, is a resource best destroyed." Paraphrased.
  • One episode of Reboot has Frisket eat a delete command, causing Megabyte to hunt him and Enzo throughout the entire episode. Ultimately the command ends up useless when it, ahem, comes out the other end.
  • The episode Jack and the Labyrinth of Samurai Jack has the titular Samurai and a thief (an expy of Daisuke Jigen) both fighting over a gemstone. They sway back and forth between helping and fighting one another for it and, when everything is over and they've escaped, after a moment of Lying In The Dirt Together the thing breaks and ends up worthless.

    Real Life 
  • The threat of doing this happened in China in 283 BC, making this trope Older Than Feudalism.
  • The military carry thermite grenades for this very reason. If they have to abandon vital supplies for any reason, they will use a grenade to destroy it, so that it can not be used against them by the enemy.

Alternative Title(s):

Detente Comrade, Eaten The Mac Guffin