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Mac Guffin / Film

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  • One World War II era spy film was already in the can when the atom bomb was dropped. It was yanked from release, to have its dialog somewhat reworked. A secret process, integral to the atom bomb, was replaced for — whatever MacGuffin the spies had looked for earlier.
  • Nuclear testing in Beginning of the End, Earth vs. the Spider, The Deadly Mantis, and many other monster movies. The bomb's only purpose is to create monsters. Movies like Them! and Gojira don't count, though, because they really are about the bomb.
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  • The neutrinos in 2012 (it's mostly unintentional due to bad writing); not only do the planet's neutrinos "mutate and heat up the earth" and lead to "the end of the world", they never get another mention or fixed yet everything works out.
  • The title train of 3:10 to Yuma (1957) is a classic MacGuffin.
  • In The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, once it's established in the opening scenes that the perfected oscillation overthruster allows travel to the titular dimension, much of the movie is largely devoted to the good guys keeping it out of the Red Lectroids' hands (as they want to free their imprisoned peers from the dimension as part of their return to Planet 10), resulting in a Hostage for MacGuffin situation in the third act. In the end Emilio Lizardo/Lord John Whorfin loses patience and decides his original, imperfect overthruster will suffice. It doesn't work, nor does their attempted escape to Planet 10 after that. A government official who wants the overthruster for military applications actually finds it in Penny's purse in the denouement, but only temporarily thanks to Scooter.
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  • The "Beaugard" painting in Animal Crackers.
  • Artemis Fowl has the Aculos — a mysterious fairy object of unimaginable that Opal Koboi demands in exchange for Artemis Fowl Sr.'s safe return.
  • Atomic Blonde has the List, a microfilm hidden inside a wristwatch which contains the names of every undercover operative (on both sides of the Cold War) active in Berlin.
  • James Cameron's Avatar. The Unobtanium is supposed to help make interstellar travel more practical, but there is no further space travel past the point when Jake arrives on Pandora shortly after the film begins. The exact reason for the conflict between the humans and Na'vi basically irrelevant for the rest of the plot.
  • The X-5 Unit in Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, a bio-weapon that is said to be able to kill five states in two days. And it's hidden in Beavis' pants. Beavis and Butt-Head-s TV counts as this as well.
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  • The rug in The Big Lebowski. Not only is it interchangeable as a plot device, the plot gets started because his first rug is ruined and he steals another random rug to replace it.
  • Birds of Prey (2020) has the Bertinelli diamond, which contains the codes to said extinct mob family's lost fortune. Cassandra Cain steals it without realizing what it actually is, making her a target of everyone else who wants it, which kicks off the main plot.
  • Blood and Black Lace: Everyone at the fashion house wants the diary belonging to the first victim, Isabella, because it exposes all of the shady stuff they've been up to, including cocaine dealings and an abortion. It is destroyed by one of the models halfway through the film for that reason.
  • Raising the money to pay the orphanage's debts in The Blues Brothers
  • The invented 'letters of transit' in Casablanca, though unusually they do get used at the end of the film.
  • The unopened box from Cast Away. The movie ends with Chuck finally delivering it to its destination after four years... only to find no one at the destination. Word of God joked that it was a waterproof satellite phone. A deleted scene from the script would have shown it contained two bottles of salsa verde.
  • The identity of "Rosebud" in Citizen Kane. It Was His Sled.
  • The Green Destiny sword in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a classical MacGuffin. While it does see a lot of combat and is a very good sword, its value is mostly ideological. It doesn't have any special abilities except of withstanding considerable abuse and being perfectly crafted.
  • Lampshaded in The Departed: "Our target: microprocessors. Yes, those. I don't know what they are, you don't know what they are, who gives a fuck?"
  • The Shrink Ray, and later the shrunken moon in Despicable Me.
  • In the 1979 film The Double McGuffin (narrated by Orson Welles), a group of precocious children (including Lisa Whelchel find a briefcase full of cash and run afoul of Ernie Borgnine and Lyle Alzado.
  • The jailbreak in Down by Law. We never find out how they got out, and it doesn't matter, because the movie is more concerned with the relationships between the characters (see also Noodle Implements).
  • The stoner-flick Dude, Where's My Car? has two; first, the titular car, which serves primarily as a plot device to lead our half-baked heroes into zany misadventure after zany misadventure, and second, the Continuum Transfunctioner, a very mysterious and powerful device (Its mystery is only exceeded by its power.) being covertly fought over by two different alien races (which represent themselves as hot chicks and creepy Nordic dudes, respectively), a fight that the protagonists slowly find themselves caught in the middle of.
  • Escape from New York: the tape with the secret of nuclear fusion.
  • The plutonium in The Expendables 2.
  • The briefcase with the money from Fargo. It's buried in the snow and never appears again until the show. Its MacGuffin status is actually so legendary that it led to an urban legend that a Japanese woman died trying to find it, believing the opening that said it was based on a true story.
  • The Fast and the Furious
    • The Ford GT 40 in Fast Five. Also doubles as a Cool Car.
    • The Nightshade device in 6. It's only mentioned once or twice and has something to do with satellites.
    • Subverted with the God's Eye in 7. It sounds a lot like a usual MacGuffin — a device that can hack into anything and trace anyone anywhere — but once it's recovered, it's used almost immediately to find Deckard. It's used again during the climax by Jakande to track down Ramsey and keep her from locking him out of it.
  • The diamonds and their heist in Femme Fatale (2002).
  • When the screenplay for Good Will Hunting was published as a book, director Gus Van Sant wrote a preface in which he admitted that Will's math talents were a MacGuffin: he doesn't solve a math problem the details of whose solution affect the plot (otherwise, the movie would be more a science-fiction story about the invention of fusion power, or whatever).
  • The Philosopher's Stone in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is never actually used. It has two abilities that explain why people want it (it can create a potion that extends one life and it can turn any metal into gold), but neither contributes anything to the story.
  • Done for humor in Help!; Ringo is given the ring of the goddess Kaili, which he can't get off and which various villains and bad guys are trying to get. One Mad Scientist comes out with the classic MacGuffin line: "With a ring like that, I could—dare I say it?—rule the world!!"
  • In Mel Brooks' High Anxiety, which contains parodies of numerous Hitchcock films, the lead character (who is terrified of heights) is checking into a hotel when the receptionist informs him that though the hotel had reserved him a lower-level floor, "a Mr. MacGuffin called and requested we change it to the 17th floor." Though MacGuffin is probably a reference to the villains stalking the main character, the name is never mentioned again.
    • This was almost certainly an intentional reference to the technique itself, as Hitchcock, who is parodied in the film, popularized the term MacGuffin.
  • In Hot Tub Time Machine, a can of Chernobly energy drink turned out to be what re-activates the eponymous time machine. As the can causes the group of protagonists to be Mistaken for Spies, however, the can is stolen by a group of Knight Templars who think the can is secretly a bomb.
  • The buried Confederate gold in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
  • The sacred stones in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom are only important to the plot in that Mola Ram has taken them and the villagers want them back. In contrast, the other artifacts in the series (the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail, and the Crystal Skull) have very specific properties and uses that are crucial to the overall plots of their respective films.
  • The gold in The Italian Job. Less so in the remake, if we go by the 'only counts if it's not spent' rule. Much is made about how various character plan to/do spend it.
  • It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is based around a bunch of fools trying to locate and claim a hidden stash of $350,000. That's $2.73 million dollars in 2015, by the way. The movie ends with the money being lost making it entirely irrelevant.
  • Three James Bond movies have these. They are the ATAC transmitter from For Your Eyes Only and, to a lesser extent, the GPS encoder from Tomorrow Never Dies. There's also the Lector Encoder in From Russia with Love, which only exists to get James Bond to Istanbul.
  • Juno MacGuff from Juno invokes this trope symbolically with her last name, signifying that after she becomes pregnant she becomes the object of nearly everyone's (often intrusive, unhelpful, and/or unsolicited) attention. Almost everyone has their own opinion on what she should do with her child and her body without respecting her own agency and choice on the matter.
  • Loose Cannons (1990) has a rare Nazi porno starring Adolph Hitler himself. This object is being searched by the Nazis, Israelis, main character detectives, and the FBI.
  • The titular object from The Maltese Falcon. It gets the characters together, pits them against each other, but turns out to be worthless.
    • In Satan Met a Lady, an earlier movie adapted loosely from Dashiell Hammett's original novel featuring a young Bette Davis in the Femme Fatale role, the Falcon was replaced by Roland's trumpet, a legendary horn said to be filled with priceless jewels.
  • The Galaxy on Orion's belt in Men in Black. It's a miniaturized galaxy disguised as the bell-charm on the dead jeweler's cat, Orion — nothing to do with the constellation after all.
  • The Ant War in Minuscule: Valley of the Lost Ants happens over a box of sugar cubes. Justified in that — well, both sides are ants, they would be fighting over basically any food.
  • Mission: Impossible has a disc as the primary MacGuffin, though it was clearly defined as being a list of undercover IMF agents.
  • Mission: Impossible III features Ethan Hunt trying to keep a nasty weapons dealer from acquiring "The Rabbit's Foot", a small cylindrical kajigger that's assumed to contain some sort of biological weapon (though it's never explicitly stated as such). At the very end of the film, as Hunt leaves to enjoy his honeymoon, he asks his boss just what "The Rabbit's Foot" was, but his boss says he'll only tell him if he stays with the IMF. They all have a good laugh about it, and the movie ends. Shockingly some film reviewers (professional critics!) expressed outrage that they didn't get to find out what the all-important item was, suggesting unfamiliarity with the trope.
  • The nuclear briefcase in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.
  • The file ledger used for financial support for The Syndicate in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.
  • Mission: Impossible – Fallout has the plutonium cores, as well as Solomon Lane himself.
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail. You could switch the Grail for an Ostrich Egg and the plot would not have been affected. You never even really SEE the Grail, just a Grail-shaped beacon! Bad Zoot.
  • The stolen Goya painting from Mortdecai.
  • Mike's mother in My Own Private Idaho — the driving force for the plot is him trying to find his long-lost mother, but in the end he never does, even though he goes as far as Italy to find that she's just left. No MacGuffin, No Winner perhaps?
  • The papers in Mystery Team.
  • A classic Alfred Hitchcock example is the "government secrets" that motivate the action in North By Northwest (1959). The audience only sees a quick shot of the microfilm, and we never have any idea what was on it in the first place, or why it was important.
  • One of Alfred Hitchcock's earliest examples of a MacGuffin is the uranium sand that Claude Rains was smuggling in wine bottles in Notorious ("A vintage sand" is what Cary Grant called it). When studio execs told Hitchcock that movie audiences wouldn't understand why the uranium sand was so important, Hitchcock answered, "Then we'll make it uncut industrial diamonds. It doesn't matter what it is, as long as the villains want it. That's the MacGuffin, that's the motor that drives the plot."
  • Milton's stapler in Office Space. It doesn't see much use as a stapler, but it is important to the subplot involving Milton and Lumbergh (which eventually does tie back to the main plot).
  • The three pearls that the protagonists need to get home in The Lightning Thief.
  • Several in each Pirates of the Caribbean movie, usually with Jack's compass or the Black Pearl coming into play at some point.
    • At World's End had Calypso and the Nine Pieces of Eight.
    • On Stranger Tides had the chalices of Ponce de León and a mermaid's tear.
    • Jack also becomes one between Dead Man's Chest and the first portion of At World's End.
    • [1] has the Trident of Poseidon, which Henry Turner seeks to destroy to remove the curse binding his father to the Flying Dutchman, and Captain Salazar seeks to free himself and his men from their undeath and kill Jack Sparrow.
  • The titular proof in Proof. What it is doesn't matter, only whether Robert or his daughter Catherine was the one who proved it.
  • The stolen money in Psycho. In reality, everything about the plot becomes irrelevant at the half-way point.
  • Pulp Fiction: The suitcase with the glowing and mysterious contents for Vince and Jules. It's an homage to the 1955 movie Kiss Me Deadly, whose suitcase originally housed a superweapon — a nuclear device. A popular fan speculation is that it houses Marcellus' soul. Tarantino has made it very clear that he neither knows nor cares what was in the case. He has said that in hindsight he wishes he had not even included the glow, since that narrows down the possible contents, vague as it may be.
    • In the first draft of the film, it was diamonds. When filming began, they decided "diamonds" was too generic and overused, and decided that we'd never see what was inside the case.
  • The 1964 Chevy Malibu in Repo Man, which contains something radioactive in its trunk.
  • The Staff of Jericho in R.I.P.D.. The deados are collecting its pieces to reassemble it, so the dead (all of them) can return to Earth.
  • Guy Ritchie films tend to feature good examples — standard formula is several factions of gangsters colliding as they try to get their hands on... something. Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels has two antique guns and a stash of weed; Snatch. has a giant diamond; Rock N Rolla had a painting; and Lock, Stock... the series had Idiosyncratic Episode Naming along the lines of "Lock, Stock And [The MacGuffin]".
  • In Road to Rio, there are the mysterious Papers that have no bearing on the plot besides having an interesting Safe Cracking scene. Lampshaded when Bob Hope and Bing Crosby say that "the world must never know" their contents. At the end, when the papers have been recovered and they're about to be read, they get torn up instead, since they've served their dramatic purpose.
  • The titular artifact in Romancing the Stone. Subverted in the sequel The Jewel of the Nile, which turns out not to be a jewel at all.
  • The silver case in Ronin. The fact that the main characters' employers refuse to tell them what's inside the case is a minor plot point. We never find out either, and Robert De Niro's character isn't even interested in the case: he was just using it as a way to get to IRA leader Seamus so he could assassinate him.
  • The eponymous necklace in Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace could be almost anything. Its only vital characteristics are that it is valuable and that Moriarty wants it.
  • "The Rembrandt Letters" in Silver Streak.
  • The Simpsons Movie has the silo full of pig feces that's accidentally dumped into the lake (after this happens, it's never mentioned again), as well as the pig itself.
  • The Spanish Prisoner revolves around a secret and valuable industrial "Process" its protagonist has invented.
  • The Pick of Destiny in... Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny. Tenacious D need it to become the greatest rock band ever and win enough money to pay off their rent, and never use it outside of a dream sequence.
  • Titanic (1997) is framed around the search for a diamond called Le CÂœur de la Mer (The Heart of the Sea/Ocean), which is quickly forgotten until the end of the story, when its owner throws it overboard so no one can have it.
  • Trust No 1: The NSA had been searching for a drive containing top secret military intelligence data. It also turns out to have access to the treasury.
  • What's Up, Tiger Lily? has several factions out to kill to possess the perfect egg salad recipe, stolen from a potentate who tells our hero "It is written that he who makes the best egg salad shall rule over heaven and earth. Don't ask me why egg salad, I have enough aggravation."
  • Marvin Acme's will in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.Note 
  • The Wizard of Oz has Dorothy's ruby slippers, which she needs to keep away from the Wicked Witch of the West. It's never explained what they do, but Glinda points out, "Their magic must be very powerful, or else she wouldn't want them so badly." Though in the end they are used to bring Dorothy home.
  • Wonder Woman (1974). A list of U.S. undercover agents stolen by the Big Bad and put up for sale to the highest bidder.


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