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Fatal MacGuffin

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Sometimes the MacGuffin everyone has been searching for turns to be more (or less) than it seems. And sometimes it is better to lose the race to obtain it. Especially when possessing the MacGuffin turns out to have fatal consequences.

This can play out in several different ways. Sometimes, the hero will be about to obtain the object, only to have the villain snatch it away from him, and pay the price. At other times, there may have been a cryptic warning about the cost of achieving the MacGuffin. In this case, expect the hero to decipher its meaning just before the villain finds the item. A pragmatic hero might keep his mouth shut up and let the villain seal his own fate. A more noble hero will attempt to warn the villain, only for the villain to assume he is trying Reverse Psychology, and take the item anyway.


Often a case of Be Careful What You Wish For.

Compare with Unholy Holy Sword where the weapons can bring disastrous consequences to the wielders if they're unfit to use them.

As this is a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.


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    Indiana Jones franchise 
Indiana Jones as a whole franchise have the MacGuffin of the Week as lethal for the one who gets it, this was seen in every of their four movies, video games, comic books and even the prequel TV series have a MacGuffin all want which in the end resulted to be an Artifact of Doom.

Comic Books

  • In The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones #12, the Ismaili assassin have temporarily disposed of Indy and his allies and attempt to seize the Fourth Nail (the fourth nail forged for the crucifixion of Jesus, and intended to be driven through his heart, but stolen by a gypsy) from its gypsy guardian. She tells them "Then take it. For I, too, am certain that you will receive precisely what is coming to you!" The assassins seize the nail from the altar and all of the lights go out. By the time Indy and his friends arrive, the four assassins are dead—each one with spiked through the heart—and the nail is back on the altar. Indy decides to leave it there.

Film — Live Action

  • At the climax of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Nazis take Jones and Marion to an area where the Ark will be opened and tie them to a post to observe. Dressed as an Israelite kohen gadol, Belloq performs a ceremonial opening of the Ark by invoking a standard Sabbath prayer, and finds it full of sand, possibly all that is left of the Ten Commandments. As Jones warns Marion to keep her eyes shut, spirits emerge from the Ark, eventually revealing themselves to be angels of death. Flames then form above the opened Ark and bolts of energy shoot through the gathered Nazi soldiers, killing them all. In the extreme heat, Dietrich's head shrivels up; all the flesh on Toht's face melts off his skull; and Belloq's head explodes. Flames then engulf and vaporize the remains of the doomed assembly, save for Jones and Marion, in a whirlwind of fire before the Ark seals itself shut.

Video Games

  • In Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, it's discovered that Atlantis not only exists but contains a machine that will allegedly turn humans into living gods. The machine doesn't work, and Atlantis is littered with the horribly mutated remains of people who learned this the hard way. Klaus Kerner, The Dragon, throws himself into a pool of lava after the machine turns him into a stunted Minotaur-like creature, and the Big Bad Hans Ubermann turns into some sort of energy being but promptly dissipates into nothingness.

    Film — Live Action 
  • Guardians of the Galaxy: The Power Stone's energy is so intense that anyone who tries to hold it in their bare hands ends up getting vaporised. Ronan is able to work around this by embedding the stone in his hammer, providing a safe medium to channel its powers into himself.

  • Interstellar Pig: Zig-zagged regarding the titular artifact, which multiple alien species are competing to possess. It's initially believed that everyone but the owner will be destroyed when the game ends, but the Piggy later admits that it has a habit of accidentally destroying its owner's planet when it "hiccups". Ultimately revealed that both stories are lies spread by the Piggy, a harmless recording device, to keep exposing it to new experiences from new owners.
  • The treasure in Riptide is said to be under a curse that kills anyone who tries to retrieve it. Turns out that the main "centerpiece" of the treasure is in fact highly radioactive.

    Live Action TV 
  • Angel: One of the 5th season's episodes " A Hole in the World" concerns a sarcophagus which contains the essence of a ancient demon called Illyria who once ruled part of the Earth centuries ago, and is successfully resurrected in the body of Fred Burkle with the help of Knox one of her worshippers whose affection for Fred results in him choosing her as the only one "worthy" of serving as a vessel to his goddess.

  • Doctor Who episode "The Five Doctors": Borusa uses the Coronet to prevent the Doctors' companions from interfering while he speaks to Rassilon. An image of Rassilon appears above the tomb and offers Borusa his ring as the key to immortality. The other Doctors try to stop Borusa, but the First Doctor tells them to hold off. Borusa dons the Ring, but then shortly disappears, becoming living stone that is part of Rassilon's tomb. The First Doctor realised what fate the tomb's writing foretold: immortality, but at a cost.


    Video Games 
  • Glomar's Heart in Alpha Prime is the goal of the villains and the cause of multiple disasters. While not initially there to retrieve the heart himself, the hero gets caught up in the chase. His friend determines that the Heart reacts explosively poorly if you try to seal it away from its environment, leading to the first disaster, and the hero discerns that the Heart's risk to humans is a result of it essentially making true whatever you are thinking when you touch it. The hero uses this against the villain by lying to him about its danger, and exploits it himself to retrieve it safely, although he's immediately betrayed and killed as a result (though the Sequel Hook makes the true nature of his choice ambiguous).

  • Bravely Second: The Sword of the Brave is this to anyone that tries to wield it. Yew tried to obtain it, but his older brother Denys aka Kaiser Oblivion tried to stop him, resulting in the sword cutting off the latter's right arm and later being disowned by his family.

  • In each of the routes of Fate/stay night, the Holy Grail turns out to be more trouble than it's worth, as not only does it consume the Servant that touches it, it has been corrupted by Angra Mainyu since the third Grail War. Appropriately, the Grail is dismantled or outright destroyed at the end of each of the three routes.

  • In Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, the Ankaran sarcophagus that everyone is looking for is rumored to contain an Antediluvian. The more crazy vampires want it so they can wake the apocalyptic being inside; others want to keep it out of the hands of the former. You can open it yourself, but it's not a good idea...

    Web Animation 
  • Overly Sarcastic Productions: Trope Talk series, "Macguffins" episode discussed this kind of Macguffin. Called "Instakill Macguffins", here at 7:04:
    Instantly kills whoever messes with it.
    Again, usually villains-only
    Kind of a basic karmic punishment
    Renders the whole race for the Macguffin retroactively pointless


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