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Accidentally Broke the MacGuffin

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You had one job Steve!note 

"If you have a big MacGuffin that pretty much protects your entire kingdom, you need to have a contingency plan in case you don't have the MacGuffin anymore!"
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The heroes have finally found the MacGuffin. After so much effort and Your Princess Is in Another Castle!, they're going to return it, use it, or whatever they were supposed to do with it.

Then somebody breaks it, making the whole endeavour pointless.

A particularly frustrating form of a Diabolus ex Machina. The other characters' reactions usually range from shock to an anger burst. Double points if the MacGuffin can NEVER be replaced. In a story where The Good Guys Always Win, if the villain gets their hands on the MacGuffin, it's either taken from them or this happens.

This usually happens during the middle of the series, not during a Grand Finale which would change the course of who wins. Often used in a "Shaggy Dog" Story.

Contrast Dismantled MacGuffin, where the MacGuffin is not broken, but is meant to be put back together. Often leads to No MacGuffin, No Winner. This only refers to objects, so a Living MacGuffin (obviously) does not count.

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Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Cardcaptor Sakura: Sakura accidentally releases all the clow cards from what was supposed to be their final resting place.
  • Inuyasha: The main story kicks off when Kagome shoots an arrow at a bird-shaped youkai that had stolen the Shikon Jewel. The arrow hits both the creature and the jewel, resulting in a Dismantled MacGuffin and a quest to recover all the shards to restore the jewel back to its completed whole.
  • Naruto: In an anime filler story one well-placed fart dashes all the immense effort invested into securing a legendary bug that was supposed to track Sasuke from the residual smell on some of his possessions.
  • A brutal version plays out at the climax of Pokémon Heroes. After Ash and the others disabled the DMA and saved Latios from being used as its battery, the Soul Dew acting as a power source for it became corrupted; Annie touched it out of curiosity which caused it to shatter. As the Soul Dew controls the waters of Alto Mare, its destruction resulted in a colossal tidal wave that would've wiped out everyone in the city. It was stopped by the combined psychic firepower from Latias and Latios using the last of his power, which wound up killing him in the process in order to create a new Soul Dew.
  • In Tokyo Mew Mew, the MacGuffin, Mew Aqua, is supposedly broken on multiple occasions. Subverted, as Mew Aqua does not break, and the Mew Aqua they thought they broke is not real.

    Comic Books 
  • Black Science issue 22 opens on Tarana, where the three warring tribes have finally come together to unite their forevermids into the omnimid. Just as the artifacts are brought together Grant blindly transits in on top, shattering them.
  • In the Minds arc of Cerebus the Aardvark, Cerebus' helmet, medallions, and sword are revealed to be artifacts crafted by the first of his aardvark ancestors, and that they could empower the aardvark statue in the Pigt temple to become a mecha-like monster that he could use to conquer the world. However, he had sold the helmet to have money for paint for his medallions and a vest several issues prior to coming across the statue, so this future never came to pass for him.
  • The Trope Picture comes from Jonathan Hickman's Avengers. In an attempt to stop an Incursion from happening, the Illuminati and Captain America use the Infinity Gems to stop it. It works, but the Gems have a shit fit, shattering all but the Time Gem, which just disappears.note 
  • Wonder Woman (Rebirth): Diana accidentally breaks the Helmet of War, which should be impossible if she is the God of War like she currently believed, which clues her into there being something amiss. She then uses her lasso of truth on herself and realizes her memories have been extensively tampered with.

    Fan Works 
  • In the The Fifth Act Cloud accidentally breaks the extra vials carrying the spring water when he fought the Grand Horn with Zack, losing Genesis's chance to cure Angeal's degeneration quickly.
    • The entire plot is kicked off when Cloud accidentally breaks a mastered Time materia.
  • The New Adventures of Invader Zim: In Episode 13, the fight over the Meekrob data crystal leading to Project Domination accidentally results in it being shattered. However, Meekrob crystal can piece itself back together if broken, and the scramble to recover the pieces leaves each of the three teams in possession of a portion of the crystal, leading to a Dismantled MacGuffin situation.
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    Films — Animation 
  • In Disney's Cinderella, Lady Tremaine trips up the servant carrying the glass slipper, causing it to break. Luckily, Cinderella had the other one.
  • Zigzagged on Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs with the FLDSMDFR kill code. As they fly to stop it, Flint almost drops the flash drive with the code, saying "Can you imagine if I dropped this?" The window then breaks and the drive gets sucked out. After much difficulty, Flint gets his father to e-mail him the code to his cell phone. He plugs it to the FLDSMDFR, activates it, and... it turns out his dad sent the wrong file!
  • A humorous example; in Ice Age, the gang spends a whole scene trying to get a watermelon from a "cult" of dodos so they can feed it to the baby they're protecting. After a hilarious slow-motion sequence, Sid the Sloth finally manages to retrieve it from the onslaught of birds......only to spike it into the ground like a football, shattering it. The baby simply eats the chunks off the ground.
  • Near the climax of Zootopia, Judy and Nick discover a train car full of vital evidence, and Judy decides to hijack the entire train car and drive it to the police station. In the ensuing Chase Scene, the car gets derailed and everything goes up in a fiery explosion. Fortunately they manage to rescue the small briefcase of evidence Nick suggested quietly slipping out with in the first place.
  • In Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Miles is given the override key by Peter Parker after the former gets bitten by an Alchemax spider to shut down Kingpin's Super-Collider. Unfortunately, he breaks it, which forces Peter's alternate universe counterpart, Peter B. Parker and Miles to create a new one by breaking into Alchemax.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • A minor one in Apollo 13. When the astronauts' carbon dioxide is getting too high and they discover the filters won't fit, Mission Control macgyvers a solution, which includes using a spare urine bag. Which leads to this exchange:
    Fred Haise: Shit, I tore it.
    Jack Swigert: Shit.
    Fred Haise: Houston, what do we do if we rip the bag? Can we tape it?
    Andy (CAPCOM - WHITE): They just tore the bag.
    Technician: [facepalming] Oh, no.
  • Avengers: Endgame: Thanos intentionally destroys the Infinity Stones at the beginning of the film, so that his victory in Avengers: Infinity War can't be reversed.
  • In Bedknobs and Broomsticks, the characters have retrieved the Star of Astaroth, imprinted with the words for the Substitutiary Locomotion. But as they arrive home, they find the star has disintegrated during the journey. And it turned out to be unnecessary, as one of the kid's storybooks had an illustration of the star, and more importantly, the words to the spell.
  • Played straight in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen with the Matrix of Leadership, but then inverted.

    Literature  
  • In Beowulf, Beowulf puts so much force behind Naegling, that he shatters it. Woops.
  • The Books of Ember:
    • In The City of Ember, the "Instructions for Egress" were mostly ruined by Lina's baby sister, Poppy, chewing on them; this turned what would have otherwise been a very quick and simple quest into a much more difficult and time-consuming ordeal as they tried to piece together what remained of the instructions.
    • In The Diamond of Darkhold, Doon throws the diamond of Darkhold at a pack of wolves to save Lina. The diamond hits the rock that Lina is standing on and shatters into hundreds of pieces. Luckily, the diamond is only a sample. There are exactly one thousand diamonds in a hidden room in the cave. The diamonds are ancient technology that turns solar power into electricity.
  • In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the record of the prophecy Voldemort tricks Harry into stealing from the ministry is shattered as Harry and his friends try to make their escape from the ministry, pursued by Voldemort's minions.
  • In The Kalevala, the Sampo is eventually destroyed in the final battle. Everybody gives up and goes home.
  • In The Twelve Chairs, the final chair was accidentally broken not by the protagonists, but by an insignificant character, the rail station guard that appears at the end. This resulted in the treasure being found by Soviet authorities and hopelessly lost for the adventurers.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, after Buffy dies the second time, the Scoobies find a one-of-a-kind sacred urn that will let them resurrect her. Demons interrupt their spell, and the urn gets dropped and broken, but it turns out the resurrection was completed moments before that.
  • In the It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode "The Gang Gets Trapped", the Gang breaks into a house to steal a vase auctioned off by a museum. Frank attempts to retrieve the vase with his Indiana Jones-inspired whip, but instead shatters it.
  • Sesame Street:
    • In Elmo Saves Christmas, after Elmo sees how horrible Sesame Street has become after wishing it were Christmas Every Day with the magic snowglobe, he attempts to use it to undo the wish, but he shakes the snowglobe too much, it flies out of his hands and breaks before he can finish making his wish, so now it's Christmas forever. Fortunately, Elmo remembers Lightning's Time Travel powers and discovers he can go forward and backward in time, so Lightning takes Elmo all the way back to the Christmas Eve the year before when he saved Santa from the chimney so he doesn't get the snowglobe.
    • In Elmo's Christmas Countdown, Elmo and Abby Cadabby work with the rest of Sesame Street to find the missing number boxes for Stiller the Elf's Christmas Counter-Downer so he can count down to Christmas. Each box had an artifact in it which in turn presents a celebrity performance; the last box had a cookie in it, which is the Trademark Favorite Food of Cookie Monster, prompting him to eat the Counter-Downer whole and the whole journey was All for Nothing. Fortunately, Elmo has everyone find numbers all over Sesame Street to make up for it.

    Video Games 
  • In Borderlands 2: Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate's Booty, the Vault Hunter breaks the last part of Captain Blade's compass when breaking open the chest in which Herbert stored it. Fortunately, Herbert knows how to fix it.
  • A flip-flopping example from the Ratchet & Clank series is the Dimensionator. In Tools of Destruction, it is broken via unknown means after the final battle, preventing Ratchet from visiting the Lombaxes. Effort is put towards fixing it in Into the Nexus, and yet again it winds up broken after the Big Bad is put away with it. Ratchet can only laugh hysterically at his bad luck, however before the game ends Clank snatches it, implying that he intends to fix it once more.
  • In Star Control 2 you meet a species called the Utwig who all suffer from horrible depression due to the fact that they broke the Ultron. What's the Ultron? Well they claim it's an artifact that generates "metawave gyrations" that interact with organic brains to commune with the user and can do anything from allow them to view the past and future to resurrect the dead. But the Utwig bought the thing from the Druuge, so it's almost certainly just a piece of junk that does bugger all. But having it made the Utwig happy, so when it was accidentally dropped during a ritual dance the whole civilization took it pretty badly, to the point of considering planetary suicide. Repairing the Ultron is necessary to beating the game, as the Utwig will give you their planet-destroying bomb as a reward, which you need. And then during the end credits (which may be non-canon as they break the fourth wall), the Ultron gets dropped again.

    Web Comics 
  • Debugging Destiny has this as the backstory. The Mysterious Voice accidentally broke the destiny subsystem in the universe simulator, and recruits Redshirt Guy to help fix it.

    Western Animation 
  • Handy Manny: In "Have a Handy New Year", Mr. Lopart's Butt-Monkey tenancies result in destroying the crystal ball that was supposed to drop at midnight. Luckily, Manny and the tools use the piñata they made as a replacement.
  • In the Kim Possible movie, A Sitch in Time, Ron accidentally ends up breaking the villains' ultimate weapon, the Tempus Simia (Latin for Time Monkey), which he was warned could very well unravel the very fabric of spacetime itself. Fortunately, it instead sends all the characters back to where they were at the beginning of the film, with the only changes being that there is no longer an existing Tempus Simia, and they all have trace memories of their adventure through time.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • In "Friendship Is Magic", the Mane Six recover the Elements of Harmony, only for Nightmare Moon to snatch them away and smash them to pieces. Fortunately, they repair themselves when the heroes prove themselves worthy.
    • In "The Crystalling", Baby Flurry Heart starts to cry and unleashes a loud wail powerful enough to shatter the Crystal Heart, which protects the Crystal Empire from the surrounding harsh weather.
    • In "The Beginning of the End", King Sombra destroys the Tree of Harmony along with the Elements as part of his plan to trick the Mane Six into thinking they defeated him so he can follow them back to the source of their power and obliterate it for good. And this time, the Elements are gone for good.
  • Stanley: In the special "Stanley's Great Big Storytime Adventure", Harry and Elsie argue over who should come into the book with Stanley to find Lionel; they wrestle over the Great Big Book of Everything until it breaks apart, causing Stanley to become trapped inside and all the animals to be messed up, so they recruit Stanley's friends to fix it.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • Subverted in the episode "Waiting". After spending a long time waiting for the delivery of his Kelpo toy, SpongeBob finally receives it near the end; when Patrick touches it, its limbs suddenly spring out, and SpongeBob shouts at him for breaking the toy he waited so long for. Then Squidward comes out, miraculously undoes the springing, and tells the two the toy is supposed to spring like that, and SpongeBob is relieved.
    • In "Atlantis SquarePantis", SpongeBob and Patrick witness the world's oldest living bubble but keep messing with the chamber it is kept in; fortunately the bubble is safe from the blows. Patrick then takes a selfie as a memento before leaving, but the camera's flash causes the bubble to pop. They report this to Lord Royal Highness, who laughs it off as that was just a prop for the tourists, and presents the actual bubble. Patrick takes a picture, and that pops the real bubble, too.
  • Taz-Mania: Taz does this to the golf trophy at the end of "Return of the Road to Taz-Mania Strikes Back".

 
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Video Example(s):

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Kelpo toy

SpongeBob and Patrick finally get the Kelpo toy SpongeBob wanted, but the toy's limbs springs when Patrick touches it, and SpongeBob accuses him of breaking it. Then Squidward arrives and shows that the toy is SUPPOSED to spring.

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