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A MacGuffin Full of Money

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Sometimes, it really is this simple...

"Fifteen million dollars is not money. It's a motive with a universal adaptor on it."
Joe Sarno, The Way of the Gun

A Sub-Trope of the MacGuffin concept. Rather than make the MacGuffin be a piece of obscure technology or the Chosen One brought back to life, it is quite simply a giant pile of cash. Because money has intrinsic and universal value, the viewer can instantly understand why it is that the characters are so determined to retrieve it.

The problem with this trope is that it can't generally be used to power stories that involve things like the villain seeking world domination.note  As such, it tends to show up most often in mundane fiction, although a MacGuffin full of money can make characters who would otherwise be normal act kind of insane — compare Gold Fever.

See also MockGuffin, Briefcase Full of Money, Hate Plague, Zillion-Dollar Bill, Pirate Booty, Treasure Map and Dragon Hoard.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • The treasure chest in one of the extra chapters of +Anima. But, it ends up getting eaten by an interesting looking fish.
  • The first arc of Heavy Metal L-Gaim revolves around a cash card containing a few million of the local currency. Characters steal it, try to bribe military officials with it, and even try to deliver it to its rightful owner. The bank that issued it froze the card when they found out about the shenanigans, but it eventually gets to the arms dealer it was meant for.
  • In Kurokochi, Sawatari uses what is called the "M Funds", a huge stockpile of money given to a certain Shigeru Momota by various politicians all around the world.
  • The eponymous treasure of Gold Roger in One Piece is very much a MacGuffin. Of course, while everyone assumes it's a vast fortune, the exact nature of it is arguably the greatest mystery in the series. It's merely the prestige of having been the only one since Roger to make it to the end of the world that will make whoever finds it the pirate king. In all likelihood, the actual treasure (as in silver and gold and all) aspect of the One Piece is probably rather not much. Speculations on what it could be range from a single piece of eight (It is ONE piece, after all) to an item that Roger was fond of.
    • Fortunately, the author confirmed twice it's something of real value, and not "Some kind of Wizard of Oz thing" (as he doesn't like that kind of endings).
    • The Wano Arc revealed the treasure originally belonged to Joy Boy, and Roger (who laughed upon seeing it, thus the island was named "Laugh Tale") also learned about the Void Century, the Will of D., and the Ancient Weapons, supporting Whitebeard's statement that upon finding the treasure, "the world will be shaken to the core".

    Comic Books 
  • Asterix: In Asterix and the Cauldron, the cauldron is only significant because of the money that was in it.
  • An old Disney Ducks Comic Universe comic involves Donald knocking loose a concrete egg and discovering that the thing's actually filled with money. After cracking it open with a wrecking ball, he finds out it belongs to Uncle Scrooge, and he kept it around in case of emergency. Yes, it was his nest egg.
  • In Hitman (1993) annual #1, the MacGuffin is a coffin full of dollars. The story title: "A Coffin Full of Dollars".
  • XIII: In Operation Montecristo, XIII and his friends decide to look for Maximilian's gold only because of its great monetary value (they need money because they are outlaws).

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In 7 Men from Now, the chest containing $20,000 in cold stolen from the Wells Fargo freight office in Silver Springs is what both the outlaws and Masters and Clete are after. John Greer has it in his wagon and is carrying it to the outlaws in Flora Vista.
  • In The Big Lebowski the briefcase was actually full of phone books from the beginning, and the money had already been embezzled.
  • The briefcase full of $2 million of stolen Mafia money in Bound (1996).
  • Charade revolves around the search for a quarter of a million dollars (in 1963, so more like a few millions today) that the murdered Charles Lampert had before his death. It's assumed he must have either had it with him at the time of his murder or somehow given it to his widow, Regina, but she has no idea where the money is and the only items found in Charles' travel bag are mundane objects like a wallet with just a few franks in it, a comb, a tube of toothpaste, etc. There is a letter addressed to Reggie, but it's just to say hello (she was on holiday before the murder) and to tell her her dentist's appointment has changed. Both protagonists and antagonists spend the film wracking their brains and tearing apart each others' hotel rooms trying to figure out where the hell the money is, to no avail. No one has a thought to spare for the stamps on the letter's envelope.
  • The duffel bag of cash in Cold Comes the Night is what everyone is after.
  • In La Comunidad centers on the Shady Real Estate Agent protagonist hiding 300 million pesetas that belonged to a deceased man from the greedy inhabitants of the Apartment Complex of Horrors who knew of his treasure and waited for his death to get their hands on it.
  • In Crime Doctor, the crooks are looking for a valise containing $200,000 that Morgan took when he doublecrossed them.
  • In The Criminal, Johnny buries the suitcase full of cash he and his gang stole from the racetrack in an empty field. Various London Gangsters decide that they want that cash and are willing to go to any length to get, including busting Johnny out of prison.
  • Die Hard: The real goal of Gruber and his "terrorist group" — the vault on the 30th floor of Nakatomi Plaza, which contains $640 million in negotiable bearer bonds. In 2017 that would be $1.345 billion.
  • Duel For Gold: This one is a horse carriage filled with chests and chests loaded with gold ingots, which the four main characters are willing to backstab and slaughter each other to claim all the gold for themselves.
  • Dumb and Dumber centers around the protagonists trying to return a briefcase full of ransom money, which they picked up in the belief it was left behind by mistake. Once they spend it all on luxuries, it becomes a briefcase full of IOUs instead - and they can't understand why the bad guys won't accept those, since they're practically the same thing.
  • It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World has the characters spend much of the early part of the movie gradually progressing from "let's be reasonable" to "screw it, every man for himself" regarding the location of a cache they discover in the opening minutes.
  • The Nazi Gold in Kelly's Heroes.
  • The duffel bag with £1.3 million in cash in it in Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels.
  • The Maltese Falcon looks like an ordinary statue, but only a few people know that it holds gems under its skin.
  • Millions is about a 7-year-old boy who finds a duffel bag full of money, and what he and his brother do with it.
  • Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation: The ledger that holds 2.4 billion pounds sterling worth of funding for The Syndicate is this for Lane, as it will provide him with the money he needs to keep the Syndicate running for decades. As a neat twist, it turns out that the ledger is digitized and sealed in a liquid-cooled server. At the climax of the movie, Hunt reveals that he's destroyed the only remaining copy of the ledger, and claims that he has memorized all the data, turning him into a Living MacGuffin Full of Money.
  • In New Town Killers, Sean agrees to play the game of cat-and-mouse against Alistair and Jamie for £11,000 in a locker at the train station.
  • In No Country for Old Men, at a few points, characters end up needing to spend some of it after getting themselves in a tight spot.
  • Ocean's Eleven uses this, though it differs from most Thief Caper films in that it was very specific money.
  • The big prize of the Quick Draw championship in The Quick and the Dead (that is held annually, no less) is $123,000. In 2017 dollars, this would equate to about $3 million— a ridiculous amount for a tiny non-mining town, no matter how rampant the corruption there is. Bonus points for storing this fortune in a single, prominent, unlocked chest, positioned on the table in the town's dirty, lowbrow saloon.
  • Rat Race makes pure use of this trope. The object of the whole film is to be the first to reach and open a briefcase with two million dollars in it.
  • The chest of silver which the bandits dropped in the village, and demands for the local smith to open (else they return and massacre it's inhabitants) in The Savage Five.
  • The suitcase full of cash in Shallow Grave. The film is about a group of friends trying to cover up an accidental death in their apartment so they can keep said money.
  • A Simple Plan is about a group of characters who find a wrecked plane full of cash (which turns out to be the ransom from a kidnapping).
  • The plot of Transit is driven by the bag containing $4 million the crooks hide in the Sidwells' SUV and then go to great lengths to recover.
  • The MacGuffin in Wild Horse Phantom is $50,000 Daggett and his gang stole from a bank and his in the mine.

    Literature 
  • Bigend Books: The mysterious container in Spook Country turns out to be one of those. In a variation of the trope, the protagonists are not out to steal it, but rather make it unusable for anyone who ends up getting it.
  • The Scapular which supposedly reveals the secret hiding place of the Treasure of The Black Coats.
  • Subverted (kinda) in the Mistborn: The Original Trilogy. The atium cache is initially desired for its monetary value, but when they finally find it near the end of the last book, money of any sort is kind of worthless... In the end, it's still valuable, but because it's actually the "body" (read: power) of a god in metallic form, and Ruin (the god it was essentially scooped out of) wants to re-ingest it to get himself back to full strength. And because it's a powerful allomantic metal with great military value.
  • In No Country for Old Men, Moss has a suitcase containing $2 million. Chigurh is hunting Moss to get the money. Bell is hunting Chigurh and simultaneously hunting Moss in hopes of getting him to safety. Chigurh never catches up with Moss, and Bell never catches up with either Moss or Chigurh. Bell and Chigurh almost cross paths, but they never actually meet one another.
  • The Stormlight Archive:
    • A minor example in The Way of Kings (2010). Each battle of the Shattered Plains (though not the war as a whole) is driven by the appearance of chasmfiend pupae, each of which contain an enormous gemstone. A "gemheart" represents a staggering amount of money, enough to fund an army for months, and also provides the gems that are used to magic up food for said armies. This has turned what was supposed to be a war for vengeance into just another contest between the nobles, which is extremely annoying for their soldiers, who are dying in droves on a daily basis.
    • In Kaladin's backstory, when the citylord died he left a large amount of money to Kaladin's family in order to pay for Kaladin's education as a surgeon. The new citylord wants the money and keeps trying to find ways to get it, such as making the other villagers think that they'll be rewarded if they steal them for him, or suggesting that Kaladin's parents shouldn't be paid for work. This gets worse when it turns out Kaladin's father really did steal the money. He forged the old citylord's will, but insists that if the man had been lucid in his last moments, he would have done so on his own.
  • In The Twelve Chairs, the MacGuffin is a chair stuffed with diamond jewelry. To make things worse, there are the other eleven, which look the same.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Alta Mar: A MacGuffin full of Nazi Gold ingots drives the plot for much of the first two seasons.
  • Arrow: Church's stash in "The Sin Eater". Girls want it because it's 100 million dollars, everyone else wants to get it before they do.
  • Leverage: "The Homecoming Job" ends up being a shipping container full of stolen cash from Iraq. In this case, the money isn't really what's important — the two bad guys, a congressman, and CEO for some Private Military Contractors have plenty — it's the fact that it's cash, which makes it a giant, untraceable slush fund.
  • MacGyver (1985): In "Three for the Road", the MacGuffin is a satchel full of Counterfeit Cash that the crooks are attempting to retrieve. Any kind of valuable contraband could have served the same purpose.
  • Night Court: In one episode, Bob and June Wheeler (two perpetually unlucky yokels) are brought in for causing about $85 worth of property damage. June says they won't have any trouble paying it off because of an inheritance from Bob's grandmother. She then opens a coffee can she's carrying to show it stuffed with cash — the $250,000 that Granny left to them. Dan practically has to pick his jaw up off the floor upon seeing it.
  • The VH1 reality series Ton of Cash relied on this trope in its first episode. Fourteen contestants gathered on a beach in Malibu and were presented with $1 million worth of Stage Money — 167 bricks weighing 12 pounds each, locked inside a steel cage. They had to open the cage and physically carry as much as they could to each day's goal line.
  • Vienna Blood: The bag of uncut diamonds in "The God of Shadows". By the end of the story, it has provoked five homicides by three different people, and Max and Oskar come to the conclusion that it didn't need a mystical curse to explain events, just sheer human greed.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Fiasco has quite a few playsets where a possible Object is a container of some description stuffed with cash or other valuable material, such as diamonds or gold dust. It goes so far as to quote Joe Sarno of The Way of the Gun in a page describing what Objects add to the game:
    Fifteen million dollars is not money. It's a motive with a universal adapter on it.

    Theater 
  • Harpagon's cash-box with a ten thousand crowns in The Miser.
  • In the play of Still Game, Victor has a hoover filled with £7000 in £20 notes.

    Video Games 
  • In Chapter 3 of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, Monokuma offers ten billion yen (ten million dollars in the English dub) to the first student to murder a classmate and escape the school as a murder motive.
  • Fallout 2 features a treasure that's stuck down in a well — a load of cash! After buttering up the ghoul that buried it for its location and hiring a treasure hunter to help find it, the Chosen One gets their hands on 10,000 bottlecaps—which was an incredibly valuable treasure about 80 years ago while bottlecaps were legal tender, but became worthless when enough technology was restored to make new caps, forcing the NCR to re-open a number of gold mines. Hope the Chosen One held on to them, as the Brotherhood of Steel blew those mines up just a few years later, forcing people back to bottle caps again.
  • The Philosopher's Legacy in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a microfilm with details of bank accounts containing a colossal amount of money (described as "one hundred billion dollars" or "[...] enough to fight the war five times over". And keep in mind this game takes place in 1964.) Enough, in fact, that despite the usual trapping of this trope, the group that gets their hands on it does take over the world.
  • PAYDAY 3: The primary goal of Rock The Cradle is to sneak into the Neon Cradle nightclub and steal a cryptocurrency wallet loaded with the club's profits. The wallet is wiped if the alarm goes off, rendering it worthless and cutting the heist's profit significantly.
  • The Diamond in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Trials and Tribulations. It's worth 2 million dolars and serves as motivation for Mellisa Foster's start of darkness. That's all that is important about it.
  • In Yakuza, 10 billion yen disappears from the Tojo Clan's vault, sending Tokyo teetering on the brink of open gang warfare as everyone hunts down the missing money.

    Western Animation 
  • Fillmore!: The briefcase full of smoits (tokens found on dairy bars and packets of chips and used to buy basically anything a kid could want once enough of them are saved up) serves this function "The Currency of Doubt". It transpires that the briefcase itself was originally perfunctory to the culprit's aims (to get her own dance students out of the way so she could win a competition), but she winds up trying to keep it anyway because having that many tokens on hand couldn't hurt.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: Krabs' old mattress, which has all of his money inside in "The Lost Mattress".

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