What is your favorite McGuffin?

edited December 2008 in Story Games
Alfred Hitchcock said the McGuffin is the thing that all the characters want but the audience doesn't care about. The secret plans, the microfiche, the love letters, the hostage, the vial of airborn flesh-eating disease, all that shit. He might have spelled it MacGuffin. I don't know.

What is your favorite McGuffin?

Is it the Maltese Falcon? The data inside Johnny Mnemonic's head? The briefcase with the glowing interior? Inquiring minds want to know!


  • A six demon bag, no question.

    What's in it you ask?

    Earth, wind, fire, all that kind of stuff.
  • Very useful!
  • I don't think you can beat the Lost Ark.

  • In one of the mission impossible movies there was a virus or something called I think chimera. What I liked about it was that nothing was ever said about it, other than some tech guy speculating that it could be dangerous if released. I thought it really went to show that the thing could have been anything, all that matters is that people wanted it.
  • The One Ring?

    The stones in the Fifth element?

    Jean Grey?
    What? Nobody cares about Jean. W and C want her, and the Phoenix is something else entirely, but Jean? Pbbt.
  • Babies in Children of Men

    Part of the setup is that nobody in the whole world has been able to produce a baby McGuffin for eighteen years!
  • I'm not very sure the One Ring would count. People do cared a lot about it, and it had a lot of effects on the story and the characters.
  • Enchanted Books
  • Hey,

    To generalize what Selene is saying...
    Could a McGuffin be "the cure"?

    The cure for infertility, the cure for cancer, the cure for the mutations caused by nuclear fallout...
    It'd be pretty abstract as far as McGuffins go.
  • The glowing thing in the case in Pulp Fiction.
  • An unborn child in Terminator.

    Killing it would have prevented the sequels from being born though.
  • The Necronomicon. It was a McGuffin, and now it's real!
  • Freedom, in any kind of Plucky Rebels vs. the Evil Empire scenario where no one ever talks about what the Plucky Rebels plan to do with their freedom once the Evil Empire is overthrown.
  • Posted By: Bad JohnstoneAlfred Hitchcock said the McGuffin is the thing that all the characters want but the audience doesn't care about.
    By that definition... Neo/Keanu Reeves, in The Matrix Trilogy?

    More seriously, getting off the island in Lost was one of the best ones in a while.
  • edited December 2008
    Getting off the island is not a MacGuffin, but getting a letter of transit is. A MacGuffin's a thing, not an action or an idea.
  • edited December 2008
    I disagree with that a lot in the context of early Lost. Getting off the island was pretty much a clear McGuffin, that presented itself in various forms (submarines, rafts, all that), but was there purely for the characters to have something to drive themselves with. Audience "knew" that they'd never get off the island. Maybe rephrasing it as "home" would make it more acceptable.
  • I'll always have a special place next to my heart for the Bhelliom.
  • Posted By: joepubCould a McGuffin be "the cure"?
    If that cure is the "Cosmo DNA" of Star Blazers it can!

    My fav McGuffin is the box in "Ronin" (the DeNiro/Reno movie). It was a McGuffin even the characters didn't care about - and it was a converted into a Red Herring. Classic!
  • edited December 2008
    Steve's right. Whatever Hitchcock said, there's also an implication that the MacGuffin is an object. So babies, plural, weren't a MacGuffin; nor is getting off the island; nor is "home"; nor is freedom. It must be an object and, like the Maltese Falcon, it's often a seemingly innocuous object.

    I don't mean to be argumentative, you understand, but otherwise the concept gets impossibly vague. Is "Killing Voldemort" a MacGuffin in Harry Potter? No, but the Philosopher's Stone might be.

  • The plans to the Death Star in Star Wars has always been a favorite of mine, also you have the Green Destiny Sword from Crouching Tiger, Hiden Dragon, the Necklace from Titanic, the Rabit's Foot from Mission Impossible 3 and the Incan Gold from Pirates of the Carribean.

    - C
  • edited December 2008
    The Holy Grail.

    (No, it isn't always. Sometimes you actually care about the Grail. But most of the time, yea, it's just the thing people are chasing.)
  • Well, to continue on TV-series front, the Rembaldi Device (or whatever it was called) of Alias is a MacGuffin if you ever saw one. Not exactly my favorite. More of a MacGuffin that I learned to hate. :)

    Water Chip from Fallout 1, maybe...
  • Posted By: Alvan
    By that definition... Neo/Keanu Reeves, inThe Matrix Trilogy?
    Hahaha! Hilarious, but also true in a sad sort of way... they were all trying to get him, like he was microfiche, weren't they?
  • And yes, the McGuffin is just the physical container of the goal the characters are chasing after.

    If the cure is a vial of liquid, the vial is the McGuffin. The pregnant girl is the McGuffin, not the hope that people can breed again. Likewise, the boat the gets you off the island, but not the fact that it gets you off the island. It's not strictly speaking a McGuffin if the audience cares about what it will do either, but that's boring old semantics for you.

    These are pretty interesting. Were you seriously yelling "no Indy! She can reach it!!!" at the screen, Brand?
  • The limitations we're looking for is that the McGuffin can be captured, lost, protected and destroyed. So a lot of the ideas, such as "freedom", or "escape" can be a McGuffin for our purposes, so long as it can be embodied in some way. Freedom could be the proof that you were framed, and escape could be the helicopter on the roof. Those are reaching a bit, but they could absolutely work, with some fictional setup.

    So it's easier to think of the McGuffin in terms of the physical.. If you've some non-physical favorites, feel free to keep sharing them, but if possible, give some ideas how those could be embodied, too.

    Ooh. I can't believe I forgot this one, when making the original list. The prototype.
  • edited December 2008
    Posted By: Bad JohnstoneWere you seriously yelling "no Indy! She can reach it!!!" at the screen, Brand?
    First off, from Wikipedia:
    A MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin) is a plot device that motivates the characters or advances the story, but the details of which are of little or no importance otherwise.

    The element that distinguishes a MacGuffin from other types of plot devices is that it is not important what the object specifically is. Anything that serves as a motivation will do. The MacGuffin might even be ambiguous. Its importance is accepted by the story's characters, but it does not actually have any effect on the story. It can be generic or left open to interpretation.
    So to me, in Indian Jones ithe Holy Grail is pretty much a McGuffin. The movie is about if Indie will beat up nazis, screw nazis, and find rapport with his father. The grail is just a thing they're chasing. It could have been Excalibur, and only the scenery would have needed to change for the story to be the same. Indy's grail represents nothing but common platitudes and simplified myths, boiled down to the base so that it can be nothing more than a thing to be pursued in one really long series of chase sequences. (Seriously, did anyone else notice how many chases there are in that movie?) Other folks might feel differently, if they felt the grail was actually important to the theme of the movie.

    OTOH, in some parts of the French Vulgate, the stories are shit if you don't care about the Grail as almost a character in and of itself. Its ephemeral promise of salvation becomes an ongoing theme, with the Grail becoming the character that both represents the promise and the impossibility of the promise. The grail itself is important for being specifically what it is, and nothing else would be able to stand in its place.

    Its like how I wouldn't call Kee from Children of Men a McGuffin, because I (at least) cared deeply about her and her baby as individuals. Certainly they helped embody the theme, and were treated as objects by many of the characters in the story, but that objectification was specifically pointed out to be the problem by the narrative. I mean, I suppose its possible to watch the show and be like "I don't care if they shoot Kee in the head, or drop the baby on its head, so long as Theo punches Syd in the head" but really, I don't know that it would be the same movie.

    Worth noting, however, that Roger Ebert disagreed. Unless I'm misremembering, he did call Kee and the baby McGuffins.

    So, you know.... words suck.
  • Yeah, I disagree about the Grail, because I do think it's important thematically. All the movies have some aspect of Jones searching for a metaphysical truth along with an ancient relic. As the movie tells us, "the quest for the grail is not archeology, it's a race against evil," and "the search for the Grail is the search for the divine in all of us." Indy is always skeptical at the beginning of the movie, and must become a believer in the end, because of his encounter with the divine in the artifact. What's different in Crusade is that Indy is also searching for a connection to his father. With the implications of Christianity ("our father in heaven"), the Grail becomes an important metaphor, not a mere macguffin. I also like to think of the movies with their internal chronology, which places Temple "first." Then, the search for artifacts follow a pattern of beliefs in human devlopment, from paganism/animism (Temple), to Judiasm (Ark), to Christianity (Crusade), and now, science (Skull.)

    But I tend to get pretty poetic when it comes to Indiana Jones. :)

    And I totally agree about any Rambaldi artifact in Alias. Man, that was annoying, and it quickly became apparent how unnecessary/necessary it was when the show kept tweaking its formula in the third and fourth seasons.
  • Mine is:

    The Ruby-stone!

    From "Barbarians", the best terrible movie ever.
  • ZOMG! I remember Barbarians!

    I mean, I didn't, until I read that post. But now I can see the whole damn movie playing against the back of my eyes in terrible proof that once something is seen it can never be taken out of your head.
  • Barbarians is one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. And, yes, it sort of disappears from your memory once in a while, only to flood back in, overwhelming your senses, every few years.
  • My favourite is definitely 'Earth' in Battlestar Galactica.

    It was definitely a McGuffin in the 1970s series and in the first three seasons of the 2005 series. I've got a feeling that may be about to change...
  • The hot, glowing case in Kiss Me Deadly, which gave us hundreds of imitations.

  • Ah, is that the original? Good to know, thanks Malcolm.
  • we almost forgot the most famous roleplaying McGuffin of all time - the 'Black Box' from John M. Ford's "Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues". Absolutely everybody wanted it - usually for completely different reasons but in actual fact *REST OF THIS SENTENCE DELETED FOR SECURITY REASONS*
  • So there is a scene in the Television show Alias where the main character Sydney returns to the secret base with an item she acquired after some formulaic scenes of Hot strutting in a wig, followed by hot running in a wig, and hot gun play. Man that's hot. It goes something like this:

    Sydney: Here you go short, smart, genius guy.
    Short, Smart, Genius guy: Thanks.
    Sydney: What does it do?
    Short, Smart, Genius guy: I don't know, but since they wanted it, we had to get it.

    That's my favorite Macguffin.

    The thing in the trunk in Repo Man sometimes trades places for number one Macguffin of my heart.
  • The Manx Cat that turns up in Grimjack periodically. It's about the purest MacGuffin around.
  • The diamond in Snatch.
  • I named the NPC scientist, whose invention was swiped and whose kidnapping the PCs thwarted to start the plot rolling in the one-shot SOTC game I ran for my crowd, Dr. Seamus MacGuffin. Unfortunately, most if not all of them missed the joke. Still, it amused me.
  • bacon, cheese, and a slab of perfectly round egg
  • Posted By: Nathan Hbacon, cheese, and a slab of perfectly round egg
    This is in error. If you find an audience who does not care about bacon, cheese, and eggs - nuke the site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.
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