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Magnum Opus

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Charlotte: Plaything? I should say not. It is my egg sac, my magnum opus.
Wilbur: I don't know what a "magnum opus" is.
Charlotte: That's Latin. It means "great work." This egg sac is my great work—the finest thing I have ever made.

The term magnum opus is Latin for "great work," and is usually used to refer to a work of particularly great ambition, scope, and scale and exceptional quality considered to be the creator's greatest and most renowned work. It is a pinnacle of creative achievement that every artist dreams of reaching and few ever do.

Such a work often represents the culmination of years of painstaking work and toil, and as such, its creation is rife with dramatic possibilities. Characters striving to produce such perfection may fall victim to obsession and neglect their families, social lives, more-lucrative but less-satisfying careers, or even their very health and well-being in their quest. Once their opus is completed, the artist may fall victim to Magnum Opus Dissonance if the public doesn't give their work the accolades they feel it deserves.

Even if the work itself is an unmitigated success, the artist may find it a Tough Act to Follow; more than one has retired or changed careers after such a momentous undertaking, but finding a new purpose in life after dedicating oneself so fully to such a massive project can prove a challenge in and of itself. On the other hand, in many stories the successful completion of a magnum opus after many trials and tribulations is a Happy Ending.

For examples of what creators believe to be their greatest work, see Creator's Favorite Episode. For the opposite, there's Creator Backlash.

Due to misuse of this trope, examples are now restricted to In-Universe examples.

In-Universe Examples Only:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Berserk, Griffith describes a dream as something that a man spends his whole life working on, whether it be world domination or the perfect tempering of one sword. The last one perfectly describes Godo, the old master weapon smith who ultimately arms Guts with his armor and the BFS called the Dragon Slayer. The creation of the Dragon Slayer certainly qualifies; as Godo told Rickert, back then he was a young man working for kings and nobles and had grown tired of making refined and elegant weapons. When the king announced a contest to create a sword that could slay a dragon, Godo created a monstrous tool too big to be called a sword, because he wanted to make a point that to kill an impossible creature you would need an equally impossible weapon. That insolence forced him to leave court and set up shop in the middle of nowhere, but he kept that slab of iron as a reminder of when he bit off more than he could chew. Years later, Guts comes to him and needs a weapon. Godo gives him a finely made sword sharp enough to cut another sword in half, but when a demon appears Guts finds that a sword made to kill humans is too fragile for the job. Instead he takes up the Dragon Slayer and butchers the creature, and it has been his trademark weapon ever since. Godo ultimately acknowledged that the Dragon Slayer was his greatest creation, and the last act of forging he ever did was to repair it so that Guts could go and rescue Casca from the Tower of Conviction.
  • In Bakuman。, Reversi is considered the main characters' best work, and enables them to finally achieve their Series Goal of getting an anime.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Coco, "Remember Me," an in-universe love ballad, is considered Ernesto de la Cruz's best and most popular song. It turns out that he stole it from Hector after poisoning him, and it was originally a song Hector wrote for his daughter, Coco.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Subverted in Barton Fink, the title character believes he has created his greatest work when he writes a screenplay for a wrestling film starring Wallace Beery that is full of the same themes of social consciousness he has tried to address in his stage plays. Unfortunately, his studio bosses wanted him to write a Strictly Formula wrestling film, and his screenplay gets his supervisor fired and Fink himself locked into a contract in which he is promised that none of his scripts will be produced, at least until he learns to follow orders.
  • In The Imitation Game, Alan Turing considers his cryptography computer to be his life's work and obsesses over it constantly.
  • In Kill Bill, the swordsmith Hattori Hanzo used to make the most perfect and deadly Japanese swords in the world, but gave up his craft because he didn't want to be responsible for any more death. However, the Bride tracks him down in Okinawa and convinces him to break his vow and make one last sword for her. He spends a month on this deeply spiritual task, and presents it to her as his last and greatest masterpiece.
    "I can tell you with no ego this is my finest sword. If on your journey, should you encounter God, God will be cut."
  • Mr. Holland's Opus tells the story of Glenn Holland, a composer and high school music teacher who struggles to meet the competing demands of his family, his teaching career, and the creation of a symphony that he considers his life's work. By the time he completes his symphony, it appears he will be unable to find the financial backing to ever hear it performed. In the end, many of his former students and colleagues secretly gather on the day of his forced retirement from teaching and surprise him by performing his symphony for him. The question of whether the "Mr. Holland's opus" of the title refers to the symphony itself or the sum of all the lives he has touched over his career is left as an exercise for the viewer.
  • Walk Hard: Dewey Cox spends much of his musical career and, indeed, much of his life working on his magnum opus "Beautiful Ride," a song that encompasses an entire lifetime of ups and downs and which is so grand in scope that at various points in its creation it requires a veritable army of singers, musicians, and barnyard animals to perform it. Indeed, it is such a crowning achievement in Cox's life that, after its first and only live performance, he drops dead, his life's work complete.
  • Hellraiser: Bloodline shows toymaker Philip Le Marchand, the creator of the "Lament Configuration" (the puzzle box which summons the cenobites), calling it his masterpiece and life's work. His wife accuses it of "not doing much of anything all"... she was wrong.
  • Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) has Michael Keaton's Riggan Thompson character give the performance of his life... literally; he attempts suicide for real during the act to make the performance his most convincing and dramatic.

  • The Black Company covers roughly fifty years of the titular organization's history. The minor wizard One Eye spends that entire time (and perhaps a century before it) crafting a magical spear. All that time and energy spent on it allows it punch way above One Eye's weight, eventually being used to destroy the god-like sorceror Big Bad Kina. One Eye doesn't live to see this, passing the spear on after suffering a stroke, (correctly) certain that even his supernatural vitality has run out.
  • In Charlotte's Web, Charlotte the spider describes her egg sac as her magnum opus, the finest thing she has ever made. Or, as it turns out, will ever make, as she dies, as spiders do, shortly after producing it.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, there is a legend about a swordsmith who worked day and night trying to create the perfect sword, but always failed at the last stage. He finally succeeded by stabbing it into his own beloved wife, causing her blood to temper the blade and make it unsurpassed at killing.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Blackadder the Third episode "Ink and Incapability," Blackadder spends seven years writing Edmund: A Butler's Tale, "a giant rollercoaster of a novel in four hundred sizzling chapters, a searing indictment of domestic servitude in the eighteenth century, with some hot gypsies thrown in," and describes it as his magnum opus. (Followed immediately by a parody in which Baldrick produces his "magnificent octopus", which, as he doesn't like long books, reads simply, "Once upon a time, there was a lovely little sausage called Baldrick, and he lived happily ever after.") And Samuel Johnson agrees that Blackadder's book is a masterpiece, pronouncing it the only book superior to his dictionary. A pity he's the only person besides Blackadder who ever gets to read it before a misunderstanding leads Baldrick to throw it on the fire...
  • The Flash (2014): During his first appearance, James Jesse/The Trickster carries out a crime he considers his masterpiece. Namely, he and his son poison all the attendees of a mayoral campaign fundraiser, and hold the antidote for ransom from each of them.
    Jesse: I've had 20 years to come up with the perfect trick. It's going to be my masterpiece. My Mona Lisa. My Breaking Bad Season 5.
    Axel: [gives him a look]
    Jesse: They gave me cable in prison so I'd stop killing the guards.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: Feeling Overshadowed By Awesomeness of his ancestor, Feanor, Celebrimbor wants to leave something beyond petty jewel-crafts and to devise something unforgettable. He wants to build the greatest forge ever "able to birth a flame as hot as a dragon's tongue, and as pure as starlight", with which he could transform Middle-earth into a place of beauty.

    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech: This is core cultural concept of Clan Ghost Bear, which they refer to as their "Great Work". Every Ghost Bear Warrior, and even most of the members of the Lower Castes, are by tradition expected to begin a Great Work as they come of age, which they will continue working on for their entire life and which is then displayed or performed at their funeral.
  • The One Ring: A dwarf with a high Craft skill and access to the Forges of Erebor can create an enchanted item with years of toil, rare materials, and personal cost. It's one of a rare few ways to duplicate some measure of the great works of old, and each dwarf can only manage the effort once in their life.

  • In Amadeus, Salieri's plot to surpass and destroy Mozart involves commissioning Mozart to write the greatest work of his life, killing him, and then presenting it as his own work. This work turns out to be the Requiem Mass in D minor, and the strain of composing it is what ultimately causes Mozart to die of exhaustion.

    Video Games 
  • In Diablo III, the Black Soulstone is Zoltan Kulle's most ambitious work; it's an artificial Soulstone (when normally they're supposed to be artifacts made by angels to contain the Prime Evils) put together with the souls of countless folks in order to attain great power for himself.
  • Final Fantasy series
  • A House of Many Doors: Played with the Captain's ongoing Magnum Opus; every time you try to develop the work, the progress bar decreases because your character has seen so much they can't decide what to put in or how it all fits together. If you obtain immortality, you can complete the Magnum Opus, but the Captain feels empty afterwards.
  • The krogan warlord Okeer from Mass Effect 2, who is on Shepard's recruitment list, is obsessed with bioengineering the perfect krogan warrior. After scores of failures, he finally succeeds with the krogan who later becomes known as Grunt. So convinced is he of Grunt's perfection that Okeer happily dies to protect him, despite never having the chance to bring him out of stasis. Shepard does instead, recruiting him in lieu of his late "father".
  • Mega Man series
    • Mega Man X: Dr. Light considers X to be his magnum opus, the first robot with true artificial intelligence. He admits that X is so advanced, he will not live to see him perfected.
      • Mega Man X5 follows up with Dr. Wily somehow meeting with Sigma (the game never specifies if in some capsule form, like Dr. Light); Sigma and the mad doctor worked together to make Wily's post-Mortem masterpiece, the Gamma Sigma body (modeled after the Gamma "Peacekeeping Robot" in Mega Man 3).
      • In general, Zero could be considered Dr. Wily's real magnum opus, as he is a similar AI being as X, although Wily's version contained an AI-override "virus" which later merged with the AI of series villain Sigma, to create the Sigma Virus.
  • In Persona 5, the "Sayuri" painting is the magnum opus for Ichiryusai Madarame, a mysterious picture of a woman that is so beautiful it helped inspire Yusuke to become an artist. In reality, Yusuke's mother made it, the gray cloud is over the baby the woman was holding, and Madarame let Yusuke's mother die in order to steal it himself.
  • World of Warcraft
    • In Cataclysm, Nefarian refers to the reanimated corpse of his sister Onyxia as his finest work, and you fight the two siblings together in the Nefarian's End encounter.
    • Also from Cataclysm, Deathwing calls Ultraxion the most powerful Twilight Dragon he created.
    • In Legion, Prydaz, Xavaric's Magnum Opus, a highly sought-after necklace legendary that periodically grants an absorb shield, was apparently this for the satyr Xavaric.
  • Near the end of Tales of Symphonia, Lloyd's foster father, Dirk, gives him the best sword he's ever forged. Shortly afterward, Kratos, Lloyd's biological father, gives him the Flamberge, and Lloyd wields both swords together as the Material Blade.
  • The story of The Fatalistic Signalman in Sunless Skies inspires him to write a book called "Signs & Signals of the High Wilderness: an Omnibus". This book becomes a permanent part of your lineage and takes up one of your officer slots, and provides stat boosts equal to an upgraded officer. Doing so also permanently removes the Signalman from the game, as he vanishes from the High Wilderness leaving behind only the book. It is implied he was either Dead All Along or under some kind of Purpose-Driven Immortality, which caused him to pass on when he finished the book.
  • XCOM: Enemy Unknown: Upon completing work on the Firestorm (a next-generation fighter jet based on alien tech), Dr. Shen, the head of XCOM's engineering department, confesses to the Commander that, out of all the machines he has built, the Firestorm is the one of which he is the proudest.
  • In BioShock, upon arriving in Fort Frolic, Sanders Cohen conscripts Jack into helping with his, requiring him to kill all of Cohen's former apprentices, take pictures of their bodies, then add the pictures to the frames held by plaster-covered splicers.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Rocko's Modern Life episode "Wacky Delly", successful animator Ralph Bighead wants to get out of the animation business to make "real art". Hilarity Ensues. The episode ends in a Flash Forward showing Ralph after he has completed his life's master work, a still life of wine and fruit carved into a mountain a la Mount Rushmore. The subtitles tell the viewer that its creation has taken ten years, although judging from Ralph's mop of white hair and long white beard, those years have taken a toll on him. Nevertheless, he is ecstatic to see his life's work completed... until a passing hillbilly says that it's not bad, but also not as good as Wacky Delly, the show that Ralph had spent the episode up until that point attempting to make as bad as possible in an attempt to get fired from his animation contract.