Follow TV Tropes


MacGuffin Title

Go To
A work has a title that refers to a specific object. Because the object is so specific in the title, you know without knowing anything else about the story, that, obviously, the heroes will have to quest to find this object, or protect it from the bad guys, or recover it from the forces of evil, or destroy it somehow. This often leads to a Title Drop.

Something of a pet trope for fantasy novels and video games, especially those with Mad Lib Fantasy Titles, but can occur elsewhere. Sometimes results in an Artifact Title if the series moves on. Can involve a Character Name and the Noun Phrase title, especially if the Noun Phrase in question is nothing more than a MacGuffin itself.

A Sub-Trope of Mad-Lib Fantasy Title and Super-Trope of Character Name and the Noun Phrase.



    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga 
  • In a surprising twist, Attack on Titan is this in the original Japanese. "Shingeki no Kyojin" was intentionally mistranslated to hide the fact that it actually refers to Eren, the current host of the "Attacker Titan".
  • Cardcaptor Sakura has some of this, since the main character has to capture cards.
  • Dragon Ball: The seven orbs that summon a wish-granting dragon.
  • One Piece: The legendary lost treasure of the pirate Gold Roger.
  • Death Note: The Artifact of Doom that has fueled Light's ascension to Villain Protagonist.
  • Pokémon: Arceus and the Jewel of Life: The Jewel of Life is a jewel that Arceus forged from his life plates, and which was stolen by Damos. Now Sheena, a descendant of Daros, is planning to return the jewel to Arceus to pass judgement.

    Comic Books 
  • Swordquest is about two heroes on a quest for a sword.
  • Tintin has three titles that refer to stolen MacGuffins:
    • The Broken Ear has a pre-Columbian fetish with a broken ear stolen at the beginning of the story.
    • In King Ottokar's Sceptre, the titular sceptre is the most important article of Syldavian royal regalia, and is stolen by conspirators as pretext for a coup.
    • The Castafiore Emerald belongs to Bianca Castafiore, who is paranoid about having her jewels stolen. The emerald disappears only after several false alarms.
  • The Sixth Gun refers to a sixshooter of unearthly power that ends up in the ends of the heroine, and that many other people want.

    Films — Animated 
  • The Sword in the Stone: After the King of England, Uther Pendragon, dies, leaving no heir to the throne, a sword magically appears inside an anvil in London.
  • Barbie & The Diamond Castle: The Diamond Castle is the desired location of the protagonists.
  • The Black Cauldron: The Horned King is searching for a mystical relic known as the Black Cauldron, which is capable of creating an invincible army of undead warriors, the "Cauldron-Born".
  • Titan A.E.: The Titan is a Lost Superweapon which can convert energy into new planets, which the heroes seek to reverse the destruction of the Earth at the hands of the villainous Drej.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Brick. The title refers to a brick of heroin, the theft of which sets off the film's entire plot.
  • The Rover: the hero is trying to get back the Range Rover that some bandits stole, though it's a Double-Meaning Title: He's actually only interested in the dead dog in the trunk.
  • The framing device of V/H/S is centered around a group of criminals trying to find a certain VHS tape.
  • Witchboard is titled in reference to the Ouija board used in the film.
  • Schindler's List is titled after the list of indispensable workers Schindler used to save so many Jews.
  • The Fifth Element has the protagonists working to get the titular Fifth Element, Leloo, to the other four elements to save the universe.

  • The eponymous Dragon Bones appear very early in the book, but if you didn't pay attention to the title, or read a translation with a different title, you'll think they are just a dragon skeleton in the basement, sad and embarassing to have there, but not important. It later turns out that the dragon bones are what the villains were after the whole time, and it is of vital importance to make sure they don't get them.
  • The Radix, a book about people chasing after a holy plant called Radix (or Radix Ipsius, "the root of itself") that belonged to Jesus.
  • The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, in the same vein as the film it inspired; the title makes it clear that whatever the Maltese Falcon is, it's going to be important. Of course, just as with the film, most people know what it is nowadays.
  • Theodor Fontane's novel L'Adultera doubles as a Foreign Language Title; on the surface it refers to a painting by Tintoretto ("The Adulteress before Christ").
  • Interstellar Pig by William Sleator refers, first, to a fictional board game titled "Interstellar Pig," and second, to an entity called The Piggy which is central to both the board game and the plot as a whole. The board game Interstellar Pig wouldn't seem extremely important when it first appears, but of course the title is something of a giveaway that it is important.
  • The Tantei Team KZ Jiken Note series often has titles of this type; the first three books which have an Animated Adaptation are The Missing Bicycle Knows, The Egg Hamburg Steak Knows, and The Backyard Knows.
  • Wings of Fire: the third part of book 5 is titled The Eye of Onyx, referring to a MacGuffin that the protagonist is looking for to end the continent-wide war.
  • The central object of The Affix is a gem that throws probability completely askew, glows by night when it's "awake", and chooses a keeper that it will repeatedly return to. The sequel is also titled for its MacGuffin.
  • The Fire's Stone is a magic stone keeping a volcano in check that needs to be retrieved by Prince Darvish to save his country from an imminent eruption.

     Tabletop Games 
  • The Spelljammer setting of Dungeons & Dragons is named after a powerful, magical, sentient ship that everyone in the setting dreams of finding and commanding. The captain who successfully claims it as his own will be unstoppable. It is also named for the generic name for spacefaring ships, and for the people crewing them. Spelljamming and spelljammer have lots of related meanings in Spelljammer.
  • Paranoia: John M. Ford's adventure The Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues. There is, indeed, a black box.
  • Warhammer Fantasy was named for Ghal Maraz, the dwarf-made warhammer belonging to the Emperor. However, it shows up little in canon, and is something of an Artifact Title now.

     Video Games 
  • The Legend of Zelda series has several of these as subtitles, to various extents:
    • Ocarina of Time, the titular ocarina being a magical instrument required to progress the plot in many areas of the game.
    • Majora's Mask refers to the Artifact of Doom stolen by the Big Bad, which is inhabited by the Final Boss.
    • The Wind Waker, which is also the name of the conductor's wand used to control the winds and travel in the game.
    • Four Swords refers to the sword the main character uses to fight this game's specific antagonist. Well, sort of — it's actually named the "Four Sword", singular, but it splits the hero and itself into four, so there are in fact four of them.
    • Phantom Hourglass refers to the item that, when filled with the Sands Of Hours recovered from bosses (which, interestingly, includes the Big Bad), protects Link from the curse laid on the Hub Level.
    • The Minish Cap refers to Ezlo, who is a Minish turned into a Minish-made cap. He ends up being the reason behind Link's iconic hat.
    • Skyward Sword is an interesting variation, as Link's main weapon, the Goddess Sword, was referred to as "the Skyward Sword" during development.
  • Elden Ring: A Ring of Power that has been scattered into several Great Runes throughout the land.
  • The Fire Emblem series as a whole is a case of this, as the titular object is almost always a plot-important item in the games; the only time it isn't important to the plot is in Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War, where it is only mentioned off-hand by a certain character.
  • Metal Gear is both the collective name for the franchise and the classification of doomsday weapon that Snake spends most of his life trying to render extinct.
  • Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross each refer to their respective time-altering artifacts. And that's all we'll say here.
    • Interestingly, Cross drops Trigger 's title in how a certain character is addressed at two different points, creating some extra Mind Screw when you factor in Trigger 's own Title Drop.
  • Kingdom Hearts, strangely, has three separate things referred to by the series title. The Mind Screw here is whether the first two examples to be shown are just cases of mistaken identity.

  • In Undead Friend the series focuses on the characters who are stuck in the supernatural game, Undead Friend.

    Western Animation