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No MacGuffin, No Winner

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Diamonds aren't forever.

"That's détente, comrade. You don't have it, I don't have it."
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A MacGuffin or Plot Device is removed entirely from the equation with neither side possessing it at the end story, resulting in the plot equivalent of a no-score draw. The heroes might get the Man of the Match award, but that really doesn't matter. The MacGuffin is gone, so nobody won. The story has officially gone nowhere.

Occasionally used for An Aesop: when two or more children are fighting over something in Real Life, the parents will often punish the kids by taking the thing they were fighting over away, meaning that nobody gets it. If it's an item, the parents will lock it away, or sometimes even give it away. If it was an event, the parents will call it off. This kind of punishment carries over to television, where the futility of a fight is often demonstrated by having it turn out to have been in vain, with the goal taken away at the last minute or destroyed by the fighters themselves in the heat of the battle. In-universe, this will often work amazingly well as a lesson where, after a few moments of lying in the dirt together, the two former enemies will be inviting each other for drinks, no longer having a reason to fight, the whole business now a shared memory to look back on and laugh at. In real life, not so much — because, of course, it was the other kid's fault for starting the fight in the first place. Compare Nice Job Breaking It, Rivals!.

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Note that invoking this can be a very bad idea, doing this for children in petty squabbles is one thing, but if you do it in a more serious situation on hardened Badasses... They might turn their weapons on you.

Since writers often want to avert an ending where The Bad Guy Wins, this trope is perfect insurance against having an ending that is seen this way: The Big Bad may be the obvious winner in terms of who kicked whose ass, and the hero may be suffering some kind of loss, which is really nothing to be happy about. But at least the villain is unsuccessful in that he hasn't made himself any richer or made any progress toward taking over the world. Which was really the whole point anyway. In fact, this "win" over the hero may have doomed his own plans now that the MacGuffin is gone.

The lost object is often (but not always) a MacGuffin; it isn't a MacGuffin if it did something else before being lost. Status Quo Is God is often the motive behind this trope, especially in those cases where keeping the MacGuffin would have a major effect on the work. If I Can't Have You… is the Love Triangle equivalent. See also "Shaggy Dog" Story, where the object was never important after all... and Shoot the Shaggy Dog, when the characters' lives are lost in the process. If one side can claim a "victory" by doing this, it overlaps with We Win, Because You Didn't.

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Compare Judgment of Solomon, when an impartial mediator threatens this in order to resolve the dispute, Tear-Apart Tug-of-War, where a non-MacGuffin item gets broken or ripped, and No Man Should Have This Power, when one side chooses to destroy the object to prevent the enemy from getting his or her hands on it.

Since this is frequently an Ending Trope, expect spoilers.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • This gets invoked in Dragon Ball twice with the titular Dragon Balls, but it doesn't work in any of them. In the middle of the Frieza saga of Z, Vegeta orders Krillin to destroy the Dragon Ball in their possession, only for Guldo to use his powers to steal it before he can do so. In the Shadow Dragon saga of Dragon Ball GT, Goku eats the 4-Star Dragon Ball to deny Syn Shenron the full extent of his powers... with some amusing shenanigans following, but at the end of all the villain gains possession of it anyway.
  • One Piece:
    • Attempted by Luffy during the battle of the Baratie — he decides to sink the ship so the Krieg Pirates won't be able to steal it for their own use. The course of the battle prevents him from doing it, though.
    • Franky invoked this by burning the blueprints for Pluton, rationalizing that he'd rather ruin his own plans than help the World Government with theirs.
    • At the end of the movie One Piece Stampede, Luffy destroys the Eternal Pose to Laugh Tale. Of course, he had already beaten Douglas Bullet and won the prize, but he didn't want to take shortcuts to One Piece. This is a callback to the canon Sabaody arc when Rayleigh offered the Straw Hats to tell about Laugh Tale.

    Comic Books 
  • Played with in an old issue of the Archie Comics. Archie and Reggie spend an entire issue fighting over who gets to take Veronica to a dance. Archie wins and goes to pick her up, only to find she's long since accepted the invitation of a third guy. Archie then takes a third option and invites Reggie to the dance, complete with giving him flowers and awkward glances from everyone else.
  • Occurs in a number of Carl Barks comic books, notably The Seven Cities of Cibola, in which the cities are buried by rocks and the ducks and Beagle Boys all suffer amnesia and completely forget their existence. In general, whenever Scrooge McDuck and one of his enemies compete for a treasure, a significant percentage of the time, it will end up being destroyed or in the hands of a third party, usually a native population.
  • Subverted in Don Rosa's first duck story, The Son of the Sun, in which Scrooge and Flintheart Glomgold compete for the treasure of an ancient Inca temple. By the end of the story, the temple falls into a nearly bottomless volcanic lake. Flintheart is ready to call it a tie, but Scrooge isn't. He proceeds to buy the lake. The McGuffin is still irretrievable, but technically it's in Scrooge's possession, so he wins.
  • Also by Disney: an Italian Mickey Mouse story, not published in America, has an "Incan corkscrew," with a key inside that opens a doorway to a place where the "Sun sprouts." After opening the door, Mickey closes it instead of entering, and throws the key away, so the "secret remains with the Incans."
  • Subverted in Grandville. Near the end of the story, the voice recording that all the characters fought over is shattered before anyone can hear its contents. The subversion comes from LeBrock behaving as if the recording is still intact and he was privy to its contents. The threat of revealing the recording, and using the few bits of information he has to back his bluff, is enough to drive the Prime Minister of Britain to suicide.
  • In Indiana Jones: Thunder in the Orient, Indy and his allies in the Chinese resistance are racing the Japanese to find a set of scrolls said to contain the original account of the Buddha's teachings, written by the Buddha himself. Once they find the scrolls, however, they crumble as soon as they are exposed to air, before anyone can read what they say.
  • In issues 217 and 218 of Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics) comics, Sonic and Bunnie find themselves stuck in the middle of a fight over an oil refinery. Unable to choose between helping the local Dark Egg Legion chapter (led by Bunnie's beloved uncle) and the local group of Freedom Fighters (a bunch of fanatic Jerk Asses), they ultimately decide to just destroy the refinery, keeping either side from getting control of it.
  • Tintin: In The Broken Ear, it's revealed that what Alonzo and Ramon are after is not just the titular MacGuffin, an Arumbayan fetish, but a Mineral MacGuffin stashed inside it. The villains finally get their hands on the real fetish on a ship heading back to Europe but are surprised by Tintin on the deck. The fetish drops from Alonzo's hands, breaks open and the diamond falls into the sea, followed after a brief struggle between the bodies of Tintin, Alonzo, and Ramon (of whom only the first emerges alive).

    Fan Works 
  • In All Guardsmen Party, the Guardsmen view this as the most reasonable approach to any heretical or corrupting artifact they encounter. Why risk securing it and letting good, honest Guardsmen get corrupted when they can just pack it full of explosives? This philosophy serves them well when the Bitch tries to save her life by holding an artifact hostage and the Guardsmen are more than happy to blow both up.
  • Invoked in Voyages of the Wild Sea Horse. When she is the last one standing of their crew, and the villainous Commodore Nelson Royale is demanding she give him the Devil Fruit he desires, Shampoo eats it purely to spite him.

    Films — Animation 
  • Puss in Boots: The Last Wish: Puss is attempting to reach the Wishing Star to regain his lost eight lives, Goldilocks wants to get a real family, Kitty wants someone she can trust, while Jack Horner wants to gain control of all magic and conquer the world. In the end, Puss accepts having only one life left, Goldilocks comes to realize the Three Bears are her true family, and Kitty regains her trust in Puss, and the three destroy the Wishing Star to prevent Jack Horner from making his wish.
  • Treasure Planet: Near the end of the film, B.E.N. reveals that Captain Flint had this attitude about his treasure. Flint didn't want anyone else to have it, even after he was long dead, so what does he do? He rigs the entire planet to explode if anyone ever found it.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • For Your Eyes Only: James Bond chooses to chuck the stolen ATAC off a cliff to prevent the Russians from getting their hands on it, which was enough to accomplish Bond's mission (in fact, that was what was supposed to happen to it in the first place, but the operator drowned before he could hit the self-destruct). Gogol has just wasted a considerable amount of resources on something he hasn't acquired, as well as losing several operatives. The British still have lost a spy trawler, at least three agents, one Lotus Espirit, and the ATAC, but have denied the Russians the ability to turn their own missiles against them. Notably, Gogol apparently finds the whole thing rather amusing as well, especially after Bond invoked the trope:
    Bond: That's détente, comrade. You don't have it; I don't have it.
  • In the Roman Polanski film Frantic, Harrison Ford ends up throwing the MacGuffin, a small electronic switch used in the detonators of nuclear devices, into the river, so neither the Arabs or the Israelis get it.
  • The battle segment of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly ends with Blondie and Tuco destroying the bridge (a Third Option the captain had suggested earlier) so that the armies will go elsewhere.
  • In The Gods Must Be Crazy, a pilot of a small private plane drinks a bottle of Coca-Cola and tosses the empty bottle out of the window, while flying over the Kalahari desert. The bottle is found by a hunter-gatherer tribe that up to this point has had no contact with modern civilization. The bottle is found to be very useful by the tribe's members, but since there is only one of it, the people start fighting over it. The head of the tribe decides that the bottle is bad for the tribe, so he decides he must get rid of it. He wanders away from his homeland and eventually encounters modern civilization and various strange things happen to him. But at the end of the film, he is finally able to get rid of the bottle, after which he heads back home to his tribe.
  • The kung-fu movie House Of Traps has the prize located on the top of the titular house (actually a pagoda), an invaluable scroll, loaded with multiple Booby traps and fatal pitfalls, and two opposing bands of martial artists repeatedly fighting each other to claim it. The film ends with the scroll getting ripped to shreds by one of the heroes, who then decides to Eat the Evidence before killing himself to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.
  • Ice Station Zebra has this ending, where the Americans and the Russians are after film from a spy satellite that contains secrets both sides want. The Americans are outnumbered and outgunned, so they hit the self-destruct button. The Russian leader gracefully accepts the draw.
  • Indiana Jones:
    • Invoked in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when Indy threatens to blow up the Ark of the Covenant while Belloq and the Nazis are making off with it, to get them to release Marion. Belloq calls Indy's bluff (even pulling a gun on the Germans to prevent them from shooting Indy) and Indy hesitates, leading to him being captured. The Nazis get what's coming to them real soon afterwards, though.
      Dietrich: Dr. Jones. Surely you don't think you can escape from this island?
      Indy: That depends on how reasonable we're all willing to be. All I want is the girl.
      Dietrich: If we refuse?
      Indy: Then your Führer has no prize.
    • Downplayed in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. While the village's Sankara Stone ends up getting returned, the two other Sankara Stones which Mola Ram had worked so hard to dig up fall deep into a croc-infested river.
    • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: Although it's used to bring back Indy's dad, the Holy Grail ends up falling down a hole. Arguably, the former still gives Indy a slight lead in the points. Just in case the aesop wasn't clear enough, a Nazi tries reaching for the Grail while holding onto Indy's hand, desperate to claim the treasure. Inevitably, the Nazi slips and falls, sinking into a canyon.
    • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ends with the titular crystal skull being reunited with the alien skeleton it was taken from, allowing the alien and its comrades to go back to their home dimension, meaning that no one can continue to study the psychic qualities it possesses, so no one on Earth gets the skull. On the other hand, the adventure did reunite Indy and Marion, and ends with them being Happily Married.
  • It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World: The suitcase containing the $350,000 gets accidentally opened and the money falls into the streets below, resulting in it getting snatched up almost entirely by random bystanders. The main characters themselves all end up in the hospital, none of them having procured one cent of the money.
  • The Maltese Falcon: The bad guys get hold of the Falcon, but it turns out to be a fake. It's left open whether it was fake all along, or if there's still a real Falcon out there somewhere.
  • At the end of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015), Solo and Kuryakin agree to destroy the uranium enrichment research their bosses tasked them to retrieve (and kill the other for), which would have granted whoever got it a massive advantage in the Cold War nuclear arms race.
  • Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation: In the finale, Ethan invokes this to challenge the Big Bad in order to stop a time bomb strapped to Benji. Ethan reveals that he memorized the bank account codes the big bad seeks (and destroyed the digital copy) and thus is the only one who knows the code he wants and if he detonates the bomb with Hunt at point-blank range as he is now, he'll never be able to finance his operations. The Big Bad shuts off the bomb at the last second and orders Ethan to meet him face to face, thus falling into Ethan's trap.
  • Ocean's 11: The crew loses the money stolen from the casinos because they hid it in a coffin, believing they could retrieve it after the body was shipped home. But the funeral director persuades the guy's widow to cremate him right there in Vegas.
  • Much of the action-heist film, Once a Thief, revolves around the heroes, Joe and Jim, being tasked by their superior to retrieve a priceless princess painting from the mafia. After numerous shootouts, car chases, Joe faking his death via boat explosion, Joe and Jim getting betrayed... the film ends with Joe setting the painting on fire in front of his horrified boss, whose legs are now broken and helpless. Cue Joe and Jim leaving their boss to his fate as the police catches up.
  • In Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the Fountain of Youth is coveted by Blackbeard, (Captain) Jack Sparrow's pirates, and the Spanish. During the finale, the latter outgun the former two and proceed to blow up the fountain, proclaiming that only God has the power to prolong life. Then they leave, though fortunately there's a tiny trickle left.
  • In The Rocketeer, the US government, the Nazis, and organized crime are all trying to get their hands on the rocketpack. In the end, Cliff surreptitiously sabotages the rocketpack to prevent the lead Nazi agent making his getaway with it, and both Nazi and rocketpack go up in smoke, taking the LAND letters in the HOLLYWOODLAND sign with them. Although Cliff's friend Peevey has drawn plans for a new and improved version.
  • In Tintin and the Golden Fleece, this is attempted by Karabine after he gets subdued by Tintin: he decides that if he can't have Paparanic's gold, no one else will, so he opens the hatch of the helicopter he's in and drops the chest into the ocean, where it sinks to the bottom of a deep trench from which it can never be recovered. Subverted when it turns out that the chest was a Red Herring containing only copper, and the real gold was hidden in the Golden Fleece's railings all along.
  • The 2007 Transformers film has Sam thrusting the AllSpark into Megatron's spark, destroying the cube and killing the villain at the same time.
    • Though in the sequel the remains still have some power, and put the plot into motion (one piece teaches Sam about Cybertron and reactivates Jetfire, and another resurrects Megatron).
  • The conclusion of the film Wishmaster depends on this: the protagonist is forced to make a third wish in order to stop the one djinn's rampage against her and her friends, but if she does he (and all the other djinn) will be freed to terrorize Earth. So she makes a wish that prevents the accident which caused the djinn's gem to be found in the first place in a Reset Button Ending.
  • The Buddy-cop action film Yes, Madam revolves around the two Cowboy Cop protagonists being forced to work with a trio of petty thieves to retrieve a valuable microfilm from a mob boss, ending with a lengthy climax which has the microfilm getting burnt into plastic driplets.

    Literature 
  • Strange example in the Airborn book, Skybreaker. The original MacGuffin is the wealth on board a ghost ship created by the inventor of more or less everything used in airships. Once they arrive, they can't find any of the expected money. Instead, the new MacGuffin is a fusion reactor and associated blueprints. That ends up at the bottom of the ocean, but the heroes end up with a Santa Sack of gold.
  • In Angel Fire East by Terry Brooks, Nest convinces the main villain that the unstable MacGuffin had self-destructed. She's lying.
  • Arc of a Scythe has an interesting example which is about an entire organization rather than an item. at the end of the series, after New Order and Old Guard Scythes have been vying for control over the Scythedom for all three books, Faraday activates the Founding Scythes' failsafe which destroys all Scythe rings and removes their ability to kill people, instead having a disease kill a portion of the population on a regular basis.
  • Used in the BIONICLE novel Time Trap, where Toa Vakama threatens to destroy the Kanohi Vahi to keep Makuta from taking it. In this case, though, it was more of an example of No MacGuffin, No Universe, because destroying the Vahi would cause a Time Crash that would essentially doom the entire Matoran universe and possibly reality outside of Mata Nui's body to hell. This marks one of the few times Makuta was legitimately forced to admit defeat, with no backup plans in place to give him an edge.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia book The Magician's Nephew has a particularly dark twist: prior to the series, Jadis the White Witch lived in Another Dimension and fought a civil war with her sister to rule the city-state Charn. When the sister was about to win, Jadis spoke the Deplorable Word, which killed everyone in the world but her. She justifies this by arguing that, as queen, everyone else's lives belonged to her anyway.
  • This is a recurring theme in The Chronicles of Prydain series. There are many items of power and magic in Prydain; however, mankind tended to kill each other over them until the items were lost or useless. The theme is that mankind's greed can lead to its own self-destruction.
    • Arawn stole many magical labor-saving instruments, tools, and weapons from the people of the land simply to make sure they couldn't have them, with a prequel short story showing that he tricked several people out of them by exploiting their greed, and those items were all destroyed when his stronghold collapsed in the final book.
    • A more low-key case involves two rival lords who constantly bicker over a pure-bred cow. Neither can actually remember who owned her to begin with, but keep going to war to steal her back. King Smoit finally has enough of it all and orders the cow taken for himself. Taran wisely advises him to instead give the cow to a humble farmer, whose lands had been destroyed in the lords' latest fight.
    • There's also an interesting variant with the Red Fallows, a stretch of land that was once incredibly fertile and fruitful. Because of the bloodshed over who owned it, the land was ruined and rendered useless. It's implied that with some care, the land might be made as it once was, but at the time of the novels, it's worthless.
  • In The Death Mage Who Doesn't Want a Fourth Time the Sauron Duchy, part of the Orbaume Kingdom, has been taken over by the neighboring empire. There's a resistance movement attempting to free the duchy, which is backed by the protagonist. He intends to reclaim the duchy for Orbaume and then be granted the rights to the area where the resistance is based as a reward. Unfortunately, after the empire gives up on the area, a new duke is instated that promptly rewards said land to his political allies, even though it technically doesn't really belong to himnote  by declaring the resistance and Scylla to have all perished in combat. Angered but with no way to take the land short of declaring war, Vandalieu instead evacuates the resistance and Scylla to his own empire to the south to let the Sauron duchy have the land again... provided they can clear out the infinitely respawning undead he left there. Anyone who crosses the border into the former Scylla lands is never seen again. The more time goes by, the more scared the new duke becomes as he realizes he definitely pissed off someone he shouldn't have, he just doesn't know who.
  • In The Elenium trilogy by David Eddings, Sparhawk and his companions spend the first two books chasing around after a large magical sapphire called the Bhelliom. Because of its powerful properties, the Bhelliom is sought by an evil god and his minions; a deformed troll named Ghwerig, who owned the jewel at one time, is trying to recover it; the Elene church, whom the Knights serve, also wants to lock it up; and as the sapphire had once been part of the crown jewels of the kingdom of Thalesia, they'd like it back. In the end, after they've done what they need to do with it, the goddess Aphrael has Sparhawk throw it into a distant ocean. But then it's reversed in the sequel trilogy The Tamuli and Aphrael is cajoled to take them back where she hid it and recover it to deal with a new threat. The trope isn't invoked at the end of this trilogy; instead it's But Now I Must Go, as Bhelliom is eventually revealed to be sapient.
  • Harry Potter:
    • The Philosopher's Stone in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone falls directly into this trope. The Big Bad, Voldemort, wants the eponymous stone for himself in order to gain immortality through the Elixir it can make. However, the Stone ends up destroyed by the end of the book, ensuring that nobody gets to use it.
    • A halfway example is the prophecy in Order of the Phoenix. Though it is destroyed before either side can listen to it, Dumbledore happens to have a backup by means of Pensieve Flashback. The fact Dumbledore was witness to Sibyll Trelawney making it in the first place helps.
    • At the end of the series, Harry invokes this with the Deathly Hallows, having seen just how dangerous they are. He drops the Resurrection Stone in some random place in the Forbidden Forest (where no one can tell it apart from any other rock), and buries the Elder Wand with Dumbledore so that no one else can ever claim ownership of it. (In the film, he goes one further and simply snaps the Elder Wand in half before throwing the pieces off a cliff.)
  • In the climax of the sixth book of the H.I.V.E. Series, Overlord declares to Otto, Laura, and Lucy that if he cannot have Earth, then no one will, and unlocks the container holding the nanites that are programmed only to reproduce.
  • The Sampo in the Finnish national epic Kalevala ends up shattered, although Väinämöinen does manage to use some of the pieces to improve the fertility of his country.
  • Used in the Nightside series to resolve the conflict over the Unholy Grail: by using it to perform the Eucharist, Jude absolves it of its taint and it becomes an ordinary cup. Also used when John Taylor frees the quantum butterfly to stop powerful other-dimensional entities from messing up our world in their attempts to steal it.
  • Taken to its full cruelty potential in The Paul Street Boys, where two boy groups are fighting over the ownership of an empty building site that they use as a playground. The conflict gets completely out of hand and in the climax, a fever-stricken Ernő Nemecsek, the plucky underdog of his team, shows up to protect the playground at the cost of his life. When the boys return to the site, they learn that engineers have started building an apartment building on it.
  • Sigma Force, as an arm of DARPA,note  have a mandate of ensuring American technological superiority. However, few if any of the books end with them or anyone else getting their hands on the historical mystery that has reared its head to threaten the world. They're generally forced to destroy it in order to prevent catastrophe.
  • The titular Silmarils from The Silmarillion by JRR Tolkien. After 500 years of epic battle over the jewels, they are literally removed from the playing field. One is thrown into the sea, one ends up in the bowels of the Earth, and one in the heavens. Even the Valar don't have benefit of them, since they are no longer able to use their light to revive the Two Trees of Valinor.
    • According to The History of Middle-Earth, Tolkien had at one point planned an apocalyptic last battle, Dagor Dagorath, which would be followed by the recovery of the Silmarils and their being used to revive the two Trees (and then Arda being recreated entirely by a second Music of the Ainur), but this was left out of the published version of The Silmarillion.
  • Inverted in The Tightrope Men by Desmond Bagley, where the MacGuffin every intelligence agency has been fighting over is deliberately leaked to the Soviets to maintain the Balance of Power (e.g. to prevent humanity from "falling off" the tightrope).
  • A rule in all Warhammer 40,000 novels which involve an STC.Explanation 
  • One of the Demons' games in the Xanth series involved a prize which was in the end destroyed by the protagonist in order to prevent the other side from getting it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode "Making Friends and Influencing People", SHIELD and HYDRA are racing to recruit/capture Donnie Gill, a Gifted with the ability to freeze people. At the end Skye is forced to shoot the brainwashed Donnie to save Hunter and May, apparently killing him, so neither side has him.
  • Andromeda: The Pyrians invade a New Commonwealth planet and attempt to pyroform it to make it suitable for them and uninhabitable for anyone else. When it becomes clear that the New Commonwealth couldn't stop the invasion, they destroy the planet, which convinced the Pyrians to end all aggression.
  • The Babylon 5 episode "Deathwalker" ended with the titular character and her anti-agathic serum (an "immortality" serum) destroyed by the Vorlons, who simply remarked "You Are Not Ready for immortality."note 
  • Subverted in Blake's 7 where these events end up demoralizing our heroes more than the sociopathic Big Bad Servalan. For instance in "Volcano", the Liberator tries to use the planet Obsidian as a base. Servalan wants the planet for the same reason, so sends in an invasion fleet, and the inhabitants activate a Doomsday Device rather than submit. It's pointed out that Servalan doesn't care because that only means no one else can have that planet either.
  • In the Mexican sitcom El Chapulín Colorado, after Chapulín defeats the bad guy who wants to possess the wig made from Samson's hair, it gets chopped up by the maid working for the archeologist that summoned him. Chapulín says that destroying the wig and discarding it is the only way to keep it away from anyone who would like to abuse the wig's ability to provide its wearer Super Strength and Nigh-Invulnerability, although the archeologist laments the artifact's destruction as a great loss to academia.
  • Defiance: When Nolan realizes that both of the major powers only want Pol Madis in order to use his gifts for a potential future war against each other, rather than to execute him for his crimes in the Pale Wars, he keeps either side from getting him by gunning him down.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Doctor spends the entirety of Season 16 on a mission for the White Guardian, searching for a device of unimaginable power called the Key to Time. In the finale, the Black Guardian tries to trick the Doctor into giving it to him by impersonating the White Guardian, so the Doctor scatters it around the universe one more without the White Guardian so much as seeing it. (Although it's possible that the White Guardian didn't need to be in possession of the Key in order to use its powers.)
    • "Journey's End" has this threatened, when humanity attempts to destroy the Earth rather than let Davros use the planet as part of his Reality Bomb.
    • "The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos": After the villain demands the return of a mysterious crystal, or he'll start sending back the body parts of his hostages, the Doctor straps a couple of grenades to the crystal so she can use it as a bargaining chip. Since the crystal is actually a planet shrunk down and placed in stasis, it's a good thing the grenades are never detonated.
  • Eerie, Indiana: In "Zombies in P.Js", Dash X has been working for the bad guy in exchange for a cut of the ill-gotten gains. When he spies on the baddie's phone call and discovers they never intended to pay him, he declares if he won't get his cut, no one will, and switches sides.
  • In the finale of Game of Thrones, Drogon destroys the Iron Throne that everyone has been fighting to control. With the symbol of Targaryen authority gone and the last surviving member of the dynasty imprisoned for regicide, Westeros is forced to adopt elective monarchy.
  • Leverage: In "The Rashomon Job" this is the end result, in which all four criminal team members were trying to steal the same item on the same night, getting in each others' way and preventing any of the four from getting their hands on it. Not that it mattered, it was fake all along.
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E. episode "The Foxes and Hounds Affair" ends this way. UNCLE and two antagonistic THRUSH agents are all trying to get their hands on a Mind Reading device. One of the THRUSH agents tricks his opponent into blowing herself up... but unfortunately for everyone, the machine is destroyed with her.
  • In The Outer Limits (1995) episode "Dead Man's Switch", humanity sets up several people in underground bunkers to ensure Earth becomes this, by launching all of our nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, if the incoming aliens are hostile.
  • In the Power Rangers Wild Force episode "Ancient Awakening", Master Org discovers an emblem to unseal the Elephant Zord's spirit and has Tire Org capture Princess Shayla in an effort for a person who is pure of heart to release its power. However, Shayla tells him that only the spirit locked inside can choose its guardian. His response?
    Master Org: Then if I can't have it... no one will!
    • Needless to say, his plan doesn't work.

    Music 
  • There's a protest song from The '60s by the band Coven called "One Tin Soldier." In it, the people of the valley slaughter the people of the mountain for their treasure (which the people of the mountain had offered to share). They find that the treasure is simply a message stating "peace on earth." Clearly, this is a parallel to the Vietnam war.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition module I12 Egg of the Phoenix. At the end of the module, the PCs recover the Egg from the Princes of Elemental Evil. The female titan Sylla says that the Egg is too powerful to be possessed by mortals and takes it away to a place where neither the forces of Evil nor mortal beings can find or reach it, so neither the forces of Good (represented by the PCs) nor the forces of Evil end up with it.

    Video Games 
  • In one City of Villains mission, an Arbiter sends you to destroy a MacGuffin so that two Arachnos factions will stop fighting over it. (He specifically mentions the 'two kids fighting over a toy' analogy.) The souvenir you get from this mission is the MacGuffin, which you kept for yourself.
  • In Dawn of War: Winter Assault, if you play for the Orks to win, the Orks destroy the Titan everybody's fighting over just because they don't need no stinkin' Titan to be the best. If you play for the Eldar to win, the Titan is destroyed because the Eldar technology they used to power up the Titan and repel the Necron invasion is not compatible and winds up destroying it after the battle is over. Word of God is that the Eldar ending is canon.
  • One of the possible endings in Dubloon. Your crew compensates with "a bond more valuable than the chest," however.
  • Laharl eats a mystical herb in Disgaea 2, which apparently had wondrous powers that would have allowed the heroes to easily defeat Big Bad Zenon (or at least re-power Etna so she can curb stomp the bastard).
  • Granblue Fantasy: When Sandalphon comes for Gabriel's wings in What Makes the Sky Blue, she destroys her wings so that Sandalphon can't take them. Once the other Primarchs' wings are restored to their rightful owners, they heal Gabriel's wings back to normal.
  • In Final Fantasy XI, the San d'Orian missions end with the Weapon of Mass Destruction being taken to the afterlife by the ghost of King Ranperre.
  • At the end of Just Cause 2, Rico nukes Panau's insanely massive oil supplies to stop the world's superpowers from squabbling over it to the point of WWIII, 'just so some fat cat in Washington can drive his SUV to the hill tomorrow'.
  • Deconstructed in The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds: Lorule was ravaged by wars caused by people who wanted to get their hands on its Triforce for its wish-granting capabilities, until a past monarch decided to put an end to the violence by wishing for the Triforce to disappear. Unfortunately, the Triforce was Lorule's Cosmic Keystone, and without it the land began to slowly wither and decay. The plot of the game is set in motion by Princess Hilda, the current monarch of Lorule, sending Yuga into Hyrule to steal their Triforce to replace the lost one and save her world.
  • This is attempted by the heroes before the Final Boss battle in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, with them getting Peach and Starlow to destroy the Dream Stone to stop Bowser from using it. It fails. Bowser just sucks up the remains with his vacuum ability and gets Reality Warper powers anyway.
  • In Erron Black's Tower Ending in Mortal Kombat 11, he defeats Kronika and takes her Hourglass like any other character would. However, rather than become a Time Master with it, he figures that he prefers a chaotic world where what happens next is a mystery. Thus, he hurls the Hourglass into the infinite depths of the Sea of Blood, where it'll sink forever, so that nobody else may manipulate the universe through Kronika's artifact.
  • Attempted by the Player Character in Resident Evil 2. After getting their hands on a sample of the G-Virus they reflect on all the death and suffering Umbrella has caused and chuck it off the catwalk and into the abyss of the Abandoned Laboratory they're escaping, expecting it to be destroyed by the impending Self-Destruct Sequence. It fails miserably: Not only does Ada Wong get her hands on the discarded sample, but it turns out HUNK survived the initial firefight with William Birkin and got away with a sample of his own.
  • The quest "Sliske's Endgame" in RuneScape involves participants of Sliske's games racing each other in a series of cryptic labyrinths for the right to ownership of the Stone of Jas, one of the twelve Elder Artefacts. His plans go out the window after Kerapac arrives and destroys it with the Elder Mirror.

    Visual Novels 
  • All three routes of Fate/stay night end without the Grail being used; in one it is destroyed by the end, and in the other two it is destroyed later. In Fate/Zero, Emiya Kiritsugu could take it, but he realizes what it is and instead orders Saber to destroy it. When you look at the cast, though, you'll notice that several of the Masters and perhaps the majority of Servants don't actually care about the grail; several servants simply want a good fight or the chance to do something they were denied in life, and several masters joined for personal reasons either concerning the other masters (such as revenge or curiosity) or their ideals or for familial reasons. In Zouken Matou's case, he's been after the Grail for so long that he's forgotten the entire reason he wanted it in the first place.
  • Used somewhat in the first case of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Trials and Tribulations when Young Phoenix Wright consumes a necklace that was used by Dahlia Hawthorne to poison a certain lawyer a few years back, which would have proved Dahlia guilty of the poisoning by examining the trace amounts of poison in the necklace. Of course, Mia solves the case anyway.

    Webcomics 
  • In El Goonish Shive, the story arc "Indiana Elliot and the Temple of Swedish Furniture" involves Elliot and Noah racing through Swedekea to get the last TV stand, as the store's online product tracker said that there is only one left. While Elliot did technically end up winning the race, it didn't matter, as the store sold their last one the previous day. This served to allow the characters to bond as Worthy Opponents without having the fact that one of them lost the TV stand to the other sour their relationship. Yes, it's as ridiculous as it sounds, and the store manager threatens to ban them for life if they get caught running through the store again (plus, they have to pay for some pillows they damaged).
  • Suggested in Freefall. If Ecosystems Unlimited were to consider going to war with the colonists of Jean over the robot population, the robots would destroy themselves to prevent it, because their human safeguards cause them to value the entire robot population less than a single one of the human lives that might be lost in such a war.
  • The Order of the Stick
    • This is the explanation for why someone installed a self-destruct rune in the Dungeon of Dorukan. Even though destroying each gate brings the world closer to an eldritch apocalypse, it's viewed as preferable to letting an evil force control said eldritch abomination and rule the universe, Heaven and Hell included.
    • The same thing happened to Lirian's gate in the prequel book Start of Darkness, accidentally destroyed in the struggle to claim it, and Soon's gate, deliberately destroyed to stop it falling into evil hands (ironically creating a distraction that allowed the evil to escape its imminent destruction in the process).
    • Much later, Roy decides to destroy Girard's gate for the same reason, aware that the party isn't strong enough to defend it. In the aftermath, Tarquin admits, to Nale's consternation, that he would likely have done the same, on the grounds that none of them really had the means to control the power it contained.
    Tarquin: Honestly, Nale, that "plan" of yours had way too many moving parts. A Gate, an abomination, a ritual, and you don't even have the ritual but a friend of a friend does? We were never in any position to realistically pull that off. I would have preferred to secure the area and study it for a bit first, but-
    Nale: You pompous buffoon! Do you have any idea how much power-
    Tarquin: Power I can't access is no power at all.

    Western Animation 
  • The Encryptor Chip from Cyberchase. Because the original Chip has been destroyed by The Hacker's virus on Motherboard, Dr. Marbles has since been desperate in search for a new one. Unfortunately, whenever a new Encryptor Chip shows up, it's always either stolen, lost, or even destroyed in the end. During the most notable of these times, Marbles had to destroy the Chip himself in order to return Motherboard to her rightful place and oust The Hacker's own A.I. from her mainframe.
  • The resolution of the DuckTales (1987) episode "Master of the Djinni". Archenemies Scrooge and Glomgold discover a Jackass Genie and compete for the rest of the episode over who is to be its master. Glomgold wins the contest and immediately abuses his newfound power, but when he fails to watch his choice of words around the genie, he ends up stuck in the same predicament he wished Scrooge into, causing him to "wish he'd never found that blasted lamp." The episode resets, only this time, the Vault of Aladdin caves in, leaving the lamp (and its occupant) buried for eternity.
    • In another episode, "Pearl of Wisdom," Scrooge and the antagonist of the day, Sharkey, were fighting over the titular pearl when its effects activate — causing Sharkey to realize that he should give up the life of crime and Scrooge to realize that the pearl should be returned to its original owner. The natives that owned the pearl remarked because of its properties, this happens every time someone steals their treasure.
  • In the Gravity Falls episode "The Golf War", the various feuding groups of Lilliputtians compete to win a holographic sticker, which Mabel promises to award to whoever helps her the most in a mini-golf competition against Pacifica. When two of the factions try to kill Pacifica and her mini-golf trainer Segei, Mabel eats the sticker... and the Lilliputtians unanimously decide to cut Mabel open to retrieve the sticker.
  • In the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2021) episode "Eternia 2000", one of the pieces of the Sigil of Hssss is on a speeding train that is rigged to explode if it slows down too much. King Stratos advocates for letting the train explode, hoping it would destroy the Sigil piece and deny Skeletor his ambitions. He-Man vetoes the suggestion because they don't know who or what is driving the train and he won't risk innocent lives.
  • Jackie Chan Adventures:
    • In "Enter the Cat", Jackie — usually the first person to say It Belongs in a Museum — decides the MacGuffin is too dangerous even for that and smashes it. (Which turns out to be the right thing to do, since the statue breaking releases the cure to the cat transformation it inflicted on Jade and Valmont.)
    • In the third season premiere, Jackie attempts to destroy the MacGuffins of the first season by firing a laser at them. It only destroys the physical talismans — their powers seek out new hosts, setting the third season Macguffin-hunt in motion.
  • At the conclusion of the Justice League episode "A Knight of Shadows", J'onn destroys the MacGuffin because "the price was too great" to give in to temptation to use it or hand it over to the episode's Big Bad.
  • The Kim Possible movie A Sitch in Time ends with the destruction of the Time Monkey Idol, thus rendering it The Story That Never Was.
  • This is how Looney Tunes: Rabbits Run seems to end, with the Invisibility formula everyone's been looking for allegedly destroyed. Then Bugs Bunny admits to Lola that he saved some of it for himself and has been using it all along...
  • The Pixar Shorts cartoon One-Man Band focuses on two different one-man band musicians in a town square competing for the coin of a little girl to get her tip. They end up being so aggressive and spiteful in their showmanship that she loses the coin, angrily demands a violin to do a solo that earns her a whole bag of coins. The girl then pulls out two coins from the bag, offering them up for a one-for-each tip... and flips them both up into the very tall fountain behind them, denying both of the musicians the tip for their immature behavior.
  • One episode of ReBoot has Frisket eat a delete command, causing Megabyte to hunt him and Enzo throughout the entire episode. Ultimately the command ends up useless when it, ahem, comes out the other end.
  • Rocko's Modern Life has an example that's a Double Subversion. Rocko gets two tickets to a wrestling match, with Filburt and Heffer both trying to butter up Rocko to get the other ticket. However, Filburt and Heffer's antics keep getting further and further on Rocko's nerves, especially when the two of them come to blows over it. Eventually, Rocko has enough, saying that he's going to the wrestling match alone. It's subverted when Filburt and Heffer both handcuff themselves to Rocko in an attempt to force the issue, but then double subverted when Rocko just tears both tickets into tiny pieces so none of them get to go.
  • The episode "Jack and the Labyrinth" of Samurai Jack has the titular Samurai and a thief (an expy of Daisuke Jigen) both fighting over a gemstone. They sway back and forth between helping and fighting one another for it and, when everything is over and they've escaped, after a moment of lying in the dirt together the thing breaks and ends up worthless.
  • Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "The Slaver Weapon". Both the Starfleet personnel and the Kzinti renegades want to get the titular Lost Technology because of its awesome power: a beam that causes total conversion of matter into energy.
    Sulu: It would have looked nice in some museum.
    Spock: It never would have reached a museum, Lieutenant. There was too much power in that one setting. If not the Kzinti, the Klingons or some other species would have tried to possess it.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars
    • In "Citadel Rescue", Osi Sobeck, Prison Warden of the Citadel, attempted to pull this by killing Captain Tarkin, who carried half of the coordinates of a secret hyperspace-route. He was saved by Ahsoka.
    • A more dramatic example happens in The Big Bang, where Anakin and Obi-Wan try to stop the Separatists from stealing a kyber crystal on Utapau and delivering it to Count Dooku. Though they manage to find the crystal, they are overwhelmed by battle droids and decide to destroy the kyber crystal...which is probably for the best, since if it WAS brought back to the Republic, it would've been part of a dark secret project.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "Curse Of The Flying Hellfish", the paintings from the Hellfish tontine are quickly seized by federal authorities, although Grandpa Simpson defeated Burns by kicking him out, and earned newfound respect from his grandson Bart.
    • Played even more directly in "Three Men and a Comic Book", in which the titular comic book is soaked by rain, falls in mud, torn apart by Santa's Little Helper, and finally struck by lightning.
    • At the climax of "The Seemingly Never-Ending Story", Rich Texan, Mr. Burns, Snake, and Moe end up in a four-way Mexican Standoff over a cache of pre-Columbian gold. Marge, furious at how their greed has blinded them, ends the standoff by dropping the gold down a deep ravine. The episode ends with Burns attempting to climb down the ravine after it, without revealing whether he succeeded in doing so.
  • Done in The Transformers episode "The Golden Lagoon". The MacGuffin is a lake that makes any Transformer who bathes in it temporarily invincible. Megatron tries to seize it, but is beaten back by the Autobots, and declares "If we can't have it, NOBODY CAN!!" and begins firing his cannon into the lagoon. By the time the Autobots and Decepticons finish battling over it, both the lake and the entire area in which the lake is located have been destroyed. Beachcomber, who had originally found the lake, looks at the devastation and bitterly declares that they had won.
  • In The Venture Bros., it's revealed that the O.S.I. and the Guild of Calamitous Intent have spent generations fighting over a MacGuffin known as "the Orb", which they believe to be either a Perpetual Motion Machine or an Artifact of Doom. Phantom Limb manages to get his hands on it and attempts a coup, but it falls apart in his hands and it was revealed that Brock's predecessor destroyed it ages ago to protect the Ventures.
  • Xiaolin Showdown:
    • Master Fung teaches the kids a lesson about "not losing" when a clear win is unattainable. He does this by having them try to snatch a jade elephant from him while he dodges them; when it becomes clear that they're going to win, Fung takes out a hammer and smashes the statue. In that same episode, Omi had already lost a Shen Gong Wu to mook of the week Katnappe, and opts to keep the Golden Tiger Claws out of her hands by opening a portal to the core of the earth and tossing them in. At the end of the episode, Master Fung offers to repeat his earlier exercise with a different statue, but the kids wisely refuse. Omi recovers the Tiger Claw several episodes later when they are needed again, though.
    • The Hidoku Mouse, which is a Shen Gon Wu said to undo mistakes, which unfortunately for both the heroes and the villains, actually fell into a volcanic pit full of giant spiders and is presumably destroyed.
  • Young Justice:
    • This is Black Beetle's point of view. "A resource that falls into the hands of the enemy, is a resource best destroyed." Paraphrased.
    • Earlier, Black Manta does this when it looks like the Aqualads were going to stop him from stealing the frozen Starro from Atlantis, even crying out the infamous "If I can't have it" line. This turned out to be a Xanatos Gambit on behalf of the Light. His destruction of Starro also wrecked the Atlantean science dome, forcing them to hand the Starro remains over to S.T.A.R. Labs on the surface, which would be much easier for the Light to get at later.

    Real Life 
  • The threat of doing this happened in China in 283 BC, making this trope Older Than Feudalism. In the mid-8th century BCE, Bian He of Chu discovered an unworked piece of valuable jade. When the jade was cut and polished into a ritual jade disk, it was recognized as a priceless treasure and became an object of contention between the two kings of the Warring States. However, the jade disk eventually ended up getting stolen, and neither side recovered it before it was carved into a statue.
  • Militaries carry thermite grenades for this very reason. If they have to abandon vital supplies for any reason, they will use a grenade to destroy them, so that they cannot be used against them by the enemy.
  • Scorched earth tactics when a military force is retreating work on this principle. Everything useful in the surroundings is either taken or destroyed in an effort to starve the advancing opposing force of supplies. Famously used by the Russians/Soviets when they know winter is coming. Mother Russia is vast and its winters are killer. Both Napoleon and Hitler found that out the hard way when the advance of both of their armies into Russia was halted and eventually pushed back, each time by a fierce Russian winter after the Russians had already stripped away everything their aggressor might use.
  • For a downplayed version: bratty kids who are told they have to let someone else play with a toy often just break the thing, not even caring that they subsequently don't have the toy either.

Alternative Title(s): Detente Comrade, Eaten The Mac Guffin

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