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Stolen MacGuffin Reveal

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Sister Margaretta: Reverend Mother, I have sinned.
Sister Berthe: I, too, Reverend Mother.
Reverend Mother: What is this sin, my children?
[The nuns look at each other, then reveal from under their robes the distributor and coil they have removed from the Nazis' cars, stopping them from catching the Von Trapp family.]

There's a MacGuffin everyone is after and the Big Bad has just managed to snatch it right out of the Hero's hands and is laughing as they make their escape, with The Hero left in a bit of a Heroic BSoD. But wait! The Plucky Comic Relief, team thief, or even a less obviously sneaky character suddenly brightens the mood by revealing that they've just done the same — stole the MacGuffin right out from under the villain's nose as he made his escape, too. Being a cheeky larcenist, the thief may even taunt the retreating villain with it, though they usually replace the stolen MacGuffin with a flawless decoy, worthless rock, mocking note, or other means of taunting the villain. If the MacGuffin is in a case, the thief may do a Satchel Switcheroo.

As the page quote shows, the Stolen MacGuffin Reveal can also be used to other ways, such as removing engine parts to stop a villain in their tracks from getting the MacGuffin or another objective. Also worth noting is that the hero/villain roles can be reversed.

May or may not result in an "Everybody Laughs" Ending.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Death Note. At the end, Near steals the Death Note and replaces half of the pages with fakes to prove that Light is Kira. This saves Near's life and those of the other SPK members when Mikami goes on his final "sakujo" rampage with the book in question.
  • In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, it seems as though Sein has escaped with the case containing the Relic, but it turns out that Teana anticipated this and hid the real one under Caro's hat. The Combat Cyborgs only realize the mistake after they're back at base, and only after looking at an image of the action in thermal vision enables them to realize the heroes' ruse.
  • During the Kunzite arc of Sailor Moon, Endymion is trying to use the Black Crystal to resurrect the seven Great Youma, and has already captured the spirits of most of them. The only person standing in his way is Sailor Mercury, who has no attacking spells at this point in the series. She does the only thing she can do, which is blow bubbles at him to make fog. Endymion laughs it off, only for Mercury to reveal that she snagged the Black Crystal while he was distracted, allowing her to break it and thwart his plan.

    Comic Books 
  • There's an early ElfQuest story where Cutter and Skywise get captured by Picknose the troll and his family because Picknose believes the pommel of Cutter's sword is the key to a treasure chamber. After escaping, Cutter is upset that the sword he got from his father is now ruined—until Skywise reveals that he stole back the pommel and hid it in his mouth (explaining why he seemed so tight-lipped during their escape).
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics), Knuckles went on a quest to find and retrieve the Sword of Acorns and, thanks to Mammoth Mogul's treachery, was able to get the Freedom Fighters and the Chaotix to fight each other. In the scuffle, Knuckles returns the sword, but it's revealed at the end that Mogul has the real sword in his possession. A few issues later, Sally calls back Knuckles in an attempt to ask him to try to retrieve it again after she, Rotor and Sonic find out the sword they have a fake (with Sonic quipping "What's fake? The sword or the cockamamie story?")

    Films — Animated 
  • The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad: In the Wind in the Willows segment, the four main characters try to reclaim the deed to Toad Hall from Winky and his weasel gang; after the deed is folded into a paper airplane and sent flying, Toad tries to make things difficult for the villains by launching dozens of them. After the four barely make it out with their lives, MacBadger laments that they didn't succeed, only for Toad to smugly take a paper plane out of his coat and unfold it to reveal the real deed.
  • In Aladdin, immediately after thinking he's escaped from the Cave of Wonders, Jafar discovers he no longer has the lamp; cue Big "NO!". Then it's revealed, when Aladdin thinks Jafar got away with it, that Abu has stolen it back from him.
  • Zootopia:
    • During Judy's Minor Kidroduction, she confronts Gideon over stolen fair tickets and he pins her to the ground, telling her to "remember this moment" whenever she thinks a bunny can be a cop. After he leaves, she reveals that was the moment she stole the tickets back.
    • When Nick and Judy crash the drug lab hidden in a subway train and it explodes, Judy is sure that all of the evidence has been destroyed. Then Nick reveals that when he jumped clear, he made sure to hang onto the briefcase containing Doug's pellet gun, saving some of the evidence.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Escape from New York, Snake Plissken is sent on a deadly mission to rescue the president and recover a tape that contains the secret of nuclear fusion. He succeeds but several good people die on the way. Snake then asks the president how he feels about that and figures he's a Ungrateful Bastard. He hands out the wrong tape and destroys the true one on his way out — despite knowing this will further aggravate the ongoing international conflicts.
  • Something similar happens in the sequel, Escape from L.A.. The new president is a downright theocratic dictator who sends Snake to recover the controller of the "Sword of Damocles", a series of EMP cannons meant to shut down the weaponry and electricity of entire nations. At the end Snake fools everyone with a decoy controller and a hologram projection of himself, having decided he'd rather throw the whole world in the dark and hope people will be able to start anew than letting either the president or the violent communist insurgency have their way.
  • In The Fifth Element, the case carrying the four stones needed to stop The Evil is fought over intensely. After villain Zorg finally gets it, it's amusingly revealed to be empty, much to Zorg's frustration. Their guardian, Plavalaguna, showed how seriously she takes guarding them by revealing she hid them in her stomach.
  • Hudson Hawk. While Eddie is assembling the three parts of the da Vinci device that turns lead into gold, he secretly keeps one of the parts. When the villains try to use the incorrectly combined device, it explodes and kills them.
    Eddie: What would happen if I didn't put that crystal together exactly right? Let's say I left out this piece of mirror here. Would that be bad?
    Anna: Real bad.
    Eddie: Good.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • In Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), it happens twice.
      • As they make their escape from the Kyln, Peter Quill/Starlord returns to the prison to get an important possession of his that was confiscated, but leaves the other cast members on his ship. They scramble to find the orb, only for the camera to pan to Peter as he's tossing the orb around, keeping it as extra insurance to make sure they don't leave without him.
      • After the final battle ends, Yondu threatens to kill Peter if he doesn't turn over the Infinity Stone. Only he switches orbs (giving Yondu his own empty orb and keeping the one Gamora used to capture the stone) and doesn't come clean until well after the Ravagers depart.
    • The most pivotal moment of Avengers: Endgame is one of these, pulled at the last second. Thanos has freed himself from all assailants and has all Infinity Stones on his gauntlet. He's about to snap his fingers for the last time, claiming he is inevitable... only for nothing to happen when he does; his gauntlet is empty. Instead, Iron Man has stolen all the stones and set them upon his gauntlet, which lets him perform his own Badass Fingersnap to finally undo everything that is Thanos.
  • The Mummy Trilogy
    • In The Mummy (1999), the final fight leads to Imhotep briefly trying to kill Jon before Rick takes his arm off with a sword, leading Imhotep to go for him instead, by which time the the kleptomaniac Jon has already filched the key to the Book of the Dead.
    • In The Mummy Returns some bad guys steal a chest they think contains the Bracelet of Anubis but when they open it they find Alex's baseball trophy because Alex already took the bracelet out of the chest and put it on.
  • In Muppets from Space, Man in Black K. Edgar Singer threatens the aliens with a BFG, which then cheerily announces "Please load weapon" in a Computer Voice.
    Kermit: That was a close one.
    Bobo the Bear: Not as close as you think, my friend. [holds up futuristic gun clip] "Please load weapon"...
  • National Treasure: During a car chase with Ian following the theft of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin has no choice but to hand it over. Ian unrolls it once Ben has escaped, and realises its actually a replica that Ben bought at the gift shop.
  • In Oz the Great and Powerful, at the end of the battle between Evanora and Glinda, it looks as if Evanora has won. Until Glinda opens her hand and reveals Evanora's necklace (the source of her power) crushed in her palm.
  • At one point in Schindler's List, factory workers steal the firing mechanism from a pistol belonging to Those Wacky Nazis.
  • Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows has Holmes reveal he stole Moriarty's red notebook with all his funds and assets. Though he doesn't hold the original, he gloats in having replaced it with one that he creatively drew a fisherman eaten by a shark in.
  • In Sneakers, at the end, after finally getting the Black Box that can break any encryption near instantly, the team is confronted by the NSA's armed agents and forced to turn it over. Martin does, while also explaining that it never actually worked. Which is true, because they only handed over the empty box. They kept the chip inside that was responsible and handed over the case.
  • In The Sound of Music, the Von Trapp family manages to escape pursuing Nazis because the nuns at the convent they are hiding in "sin" by removing engine components from the Nazis' cars.
  • Star Trek III: The Search for Spock: After Kirk and co. steal the Enterprise, the Smug Snake captain of the Excelsior brags about how this will be the shortest hijack in history because his ship will quickly overtake the old relic. Scotty, meanwhile, has nicked some rather important bits of its engine, leaving the Excelsior floating helplessly in space.
    Scotty: Here, Doctor, souvenirs from one surgeon to another. I took them out of her main transwarp computer drive.
    McCoy: Nice of you to tell me in advance.

  • In Aunt Dimity: Snowbound, the hikers prove to be the offspring of the American G.I.s who stole the Peacock Parure. They have the jewels with them, and the plot goes from locating them to returning them to their proper location.
  • Crown of the Russian Empire ends with The Dragon Ovechkin thinking he threw the Russian Imperial Crown into the sea to avoid its repossession by Chekists... until the Lovable Rogue Naryshkin reveals that what Ovechkin threw was an empty bag, and the crown is safely with him, and hands it to the heroes.
  • Roald Dahl's short story The Hitchhiker has the title character swipe a policeman's notebook after the protagonist gets a speeding ticket.
  • In The Hobbit, the last few chapters revolve around Bilbo having stolen the Arkenstone, the one specific piece of treasure that the increasingly cantankerous and misanthropic Thorin really wanted to find amongst the vast hoard of the defeated dragon Smaug. Bilbo uses it to convince Thorin to make peace with the humans.
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: A case that affects Voldemort (the Big Bad) but also Harry and Dumbledore (two of the good guys). Several years before the events of the book, Tom Riddle had hid one of his Horcruxes (Slytherin's locket) in the depths of a dark cave. Harry and Dumbledore venture through the cave and, after overcoming some life-threatening obstacles placed by Riddle to protect the Horcrux, finally manage to seize it. Unfortunately for them, it is revealed by a letter put inside the locket they found that it's false, because a then-unsuspected member of the Black family had retrieved the real locket with the intent to destroy it (he also hated Voldemort, but was unable to destroy the Horcrux).
  • Played with in Roger Zelazny's A Night in the Lonesome October: During the climax, the bad guys appear to be winning, and then the larcenous wannabe-hero reveals that he switched out a key MacGuffin. However, he speaks up because he's realised that because he switched out the MacGuffin, which inadvertently put a spoke in the heroes' main plan, the villains are now actually winning, and something needs to be done about it quickly or the heroes will lose.
  • Terry Pratchett's Thud! ends on this note. A small army of dwarfs and trolls are scouring a cavern for a MacGuffin but Corporal Nobby Nobbs, with the infamous Nobbs' Sidle, already snagged it.
  • In Treasure Island, Silver's crew finally reach the place where Captain Flint buried his treasure, only to find that it had been dug up already. Turns out a marooned Ben Gunn had found it years earlier and kept it hidden inside a cave.
  • Inverted in The Bands of Mourning, where Wayne swipes a chunk of valuable aluminum off a statue at the entrance the Temple of Doom said to house the titular artifact. After running into several decoys, Marasi and Wax wonder why the creator of the Bands hid them behind some spectacularly lethal traps; since the creator would come back for them, why risk dying in his own trap? Wax and Marasi then separately conclude that the safest way to hide the Bands is to place them next to the entrance, disguised as something else: the chunk of 'aluminum' that Wayne snagged at the start.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Done repeatedly by Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory episode "The Precious Fragmentation" while the guys are fighting over the One Ring prop. Also done by Leonard after he claims to have mailed the ring back to Peter Jackson.
  • Doctor Who: When Clara tries to invoke this trope in "Face the Raven", it backfires badly. Putting the tattoo (and associated death sentence) on Rigsy is just a MacGuffin for those who put it there; its sole purpose is to attract the Doctor's attention and lure him into a trap. Clara secretly gets the tattoo transferred to herself with the idea of making a reveal of it and disrupting the plans of whoever was behind it all, but finds she can't get rid of it or the sentence.
  • In the Leverage episode "The Top Hat Job" they do this in a rather clever fashion, fitting as they are thieves. As the Villain of the Week is busily erasing the incriminating files about the tainted food his company was selling, he forgot an important detail, those weren't the most important thing on the company servers. Team hacker Hardison steals the company food patents, worth millions, and downloads them to the baddie's cell phone as they captured Hardison with his hard drive. After Hardison convinces the baddie to walk outside, Parker pickpockets the phone with the information and Nate uses that to blackmail him into pulling the tainted food. In general this is a fairly common concept on the show and one of Parker's specialties, she almost always does this with guns.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Starship Mine": After a long, drawn out "Die Hard" on the Starship Enterprise-D sequence, the bad guys still manage to get away with the highly unstable trilithium resin they came to the ship to steal in the first place—until Picard reveals he stole the stabilising device on their container. Cue distant Stuff Blowing Up.

    Video Games 
  • Attempted by Tails in Sonic Adventure 2, by swapping one of the seven Chaos Emeralds with a replica set to malfunction and stop Dr. Eggman's plans to fire the Eclipse Cannon. Trouble is, Eggman had already seen signs of a duplicate emerald being around and easily tricks Tails into spilling the beans.
  • In Chapter 6 of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, Mario and company finally get to the Poshley Sanctum to find that the Shadow Sirens had just broken in and took the the Crystal Star off of its pedestal, only for Pennington to reveal after they leave that the one they took was a fake, and the real MacGuffin was more well-hidden.
  • Fire Emblem Engage: In Chapter 11, after Evil Veyle has stolen the six Emblem rings that Alear and co. have collected thus far, they have no choice but to retreat, as they are forced to fight against their former allies. However, as they are retreating, Ivy, Kagetsu, and Zelkov show up to give them a hand. It also turns out that while Evil Veyle and the Four Hounds were distracted, Zelkov used the opportunity to snag Lyn and Lucina's rings, as well as the Time Crystal, giving Alear and co. at least a fighting chance while they retreat.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies, in The Reveal of the second case, we learn that Tenma Taro was actually a large lump of gold that the superstitious townspeople were tricked into believing was a Youkai; Florent L'Belle broke into the Forbidden Chamber to try to steal it, but it had already been stolen decades ago by a Phantom Thief. Kind of a more somber example, since it essentially rendered Rex Kyubi's murder completely pointless.

    Western Animation 
  • In one episode of American Dragon: Jake Long, Jake and the others try to steal back a pot of stolen leprechaun gold from the evil wizard Pandarus. They end up getting caught while escaping and are forced to make a quick getaway and leave behind the pot. Just before they can begin contemplating a new plan, Jake reveals he had swapped out the gold into a saxophone case, leaving Pandarus with a pot full of stew.
  • In Centaurworld, Glendale's kleptomaniac tendencies help the main cast when she steals an important key during a Villain Song.
  • The Simpsons: Bart steals the keys to the Fighting Hellfish treasure from Mr. Burns while hugging him, asking to be brought along.
  • In one episode of TMNT: Fast Forward, the MacGuffin in question is a piece of revolutionary technology that looks strangely like a coffee maker. Smuggler Torben Zixx enlists the turtles to help him steal it by claiming he wants to use it to destroy an asteroid which threatens earth. When he later reveals he only wants to sell it to the highest bidder and the disaster is a hoax, Donny reveals that he switched the device for an actual coffee maker when Torben wasn't looking. The episode ends with Torben trying to talk down an annoyed crimelord with the words, "You know, it really does make an excellent cup of coffee..."
  • In one episode of Ben 10: Alien Force, a Spidermonkey named Simian tricks Ben, Gwen, and Kevin into stealing a Crystal to stop a war on his Home Planet, only to discover he made it all up and the Crystal is actually the Power Source to an intergalactic communication Center, in order to take it, no one will be able to called for help when the Highbreed invade. Simian seemingly wins and takes the box that the Crystal is in. However, Ben became fully aware of what was going on after saving the Guard and he had the Crystal all along. When Simian gives the box to the Highbreed who hired him, the Box is revealed to have a DNAlien ear cleaner, realized that Ben had outsmarted him, he now faces his angry boss.