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22 Responses

  1. Ryan Thomas at |

    Great concept.

    Reply
  2. Rieux at |

    This article is ridiculous. Four of these things—numbers 1, 3, 6, and 7—are not MacGuffins. In order to be a MacGuffin, the object in question must be non-functional and thus entirely interchangeable. That’s the whole point. What makes it a MacGuffin is that precisely what it is doesn’t actually matter to the plot. As the estimable TV Tropes explains, a MacGuffin “actually serves no further purpose. It won’t pop up again later, it won’t explain the ending, it won’t actually do anything except possibly distract you while you try to figure out its significance. In some cases, it won’t even be shown. It is usually a mysterious package/artifact/superweapon that everyone in the story is chasing.

    “To determine if a thing is a MacGuffin, check to see if it is interchangeable. For example, in a caper story the MacGuffin could be either the Mona Lisa or the Hope diamond, it makes no difference which. The rest of the story (i.e. it being stolen) would be exactly the same. It doesn’t matter which it is, it is only necessary for the characters to want it.”

    “Rosebud,” the One Ring, the Death Star plans, and Pee Wee’s bike all fail this test.

    “Rosebud” isn’t (as far as anyone knows for most of the film) a thing at all; it’s a mystery that drives one portion of the plot. Not a MacGuffin.

    A major element of the One Ring is that it has agency; it does things (and “wants to be found”) during the story. That makes it entirely NON-interchangeable, and therefore not a MacGuffin.

    The Death Star plans would be a MacGuffin if Episode IV had ended thirty minutes earlier. But once Luke and company escape to Yavin, the Rebels use those plans to formulate an attack strategy; at that point no one is interested in getting the plans anymore, and it’s functional. As a result, it’s not a MacGuffin.

    And Pee Wee’s bike is only being sought by one person in the movie; it is very clearly not an item “that everyone in the story is chasing.” Then, a late sequence involves Pee Wee riding the bike—and making use of its peculiar innovations—to escape studio security. That makes it extremely non-interchangeable. Not A MacGuffin.

    It’s also worth mentioning that two of the remaining six entries on the list above are simple piles of cash. Those do drive their respective plots, and they are interchangeable—but (duh) it’s the nature of money to be interchangeable. That’s the point. Plain old currency is certainly not what Hitchcock had in mind when he came up with the word.

    (TV Tropes warns: “Do not confuse with Plot Device. Please, don’t.” You did.)

    So here we have a list of “Top 10 MacGuffins,” and only four of them are real MacGuffins. How absurd.

    Reply
    1. so about that at |

      If we are going to be citing tv tropes, maybe you should look at this: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/TheLordOfTheRings/TropesM-O

      looks like the ring IS a macguffin

      I haven’t looked up the others, but you can if you’re that interested. Also, the death star plans might not be a macguffin, but R2D2 is because of them, according to George Lucas

      Reply
      1. Rieux at |

        I think you need to re-read that TVT page you linked to. It states, correctly, that the Ring is not a MacGuffin but an Artifact of Doom. MacGuffins are inanimate. The Ring is a character.

        For the same reason, the Death Star plans are a legitimate contender for MacGuffin status, and R2 isn’t, insofar as he’s sentient; he certainly appears to be. Then, as I said, one can make a perfectly reasonable case that the plans are a MacGuffin until they reach Yavin. Then no one is chasing them anymore. The search/fight for them is no longer driving the plot (even at the very climax of the movie), and that’s the fundamental requirement for a MacGuffin.

        It’s hardly shocking that George Lucas got this wrong. He’s George Lucas.

        Reply
    2. Geoff Shakespeare at |

      Hey Rieux,

      Sorry you didn’t enjoy the article, but since when is TV Tropes the final authority on what a macguffin is? My definition, and the one given by Hitchcock, who popularized the term, isn’t quite so rigid. You say money isn’t what Hitchcock had in mind when he came up with the term. Since you seem to know him so well- and have the ability to talk to the dead- perhaps you could get him to comment below and put the matter to rest once and for all? If he comes down on your side there’s a steak dinner in it for you!

      Reply
      1. Rieux at |

        since when is TV Tropes the final authority on what a macguffin is?

        Well, they tend to pay attention to such concepts; you evidently have not.

        You say money isn’t what Hitchcock had in mind when he came up with the term. Since you seem to know him so well- and have the ability to talk to the dead- perhaps you could get him to comment below and put the matter to rest once and for all?

        Oh, right. It’s so unfortunate that no one ever records things that dead people said when they were alive; in order to know anything about them, one must “have the ability to talk to the dead.” Mm-hmm.

        I guess this must not exist, then:

        In TV interviews, Hitchcock defined a MacGuffin as the object around which the plot revolves, but, as to what that object specifically is, he declared, “the audience don’t care”.

        You want Hitchcock, you got Hitchcock. Interchangeability. From the horse’s mouth, six of your ten things aren’t MacGuffins.

        Reply
    3. Hammer at |

      Rieux, you are 100% correct.

      Some people will never get it, even when you spoon-feed it to them.

      C’est la vie.

      Reply
    4. Steve Dave at |
      Reply
  3. Nusent at |

    Rieux,

    Rosebud is a sled, therefore a thing.

    Reply
    1. Rieux at |

      Sigh.

      What makes a MacGuffin is an item’s function in a story. “Rosebud” as a plot point in Citizen Kane is simply the object of a mystery that one character, Jerry Thompson (William Alland), is attempting to solve. Thompson is not looking for a sled, chasing after a sled, trying to acquire a sled. Instead, he is trying to answer the question “What did Kane’s final word, ‘Rosebud,’ mean?”

      And he never even finds out. He never learns—no character in the movie, except Kane himself, ever knows—that Rosebud is a sled.

      That makes that sled the opposite of a MacGuffin: it’s an object that no character in the movie ever seeks, though it is imbued with enormous meaning, meaning absolutely specific to it itself, for the single character who even knows it exists.

      Not all plot points, or plot points involving objects, are MacGuffins. The word actually means something, even if GS is seriously confused about what that is. This article is just clueless nonsense.

      Reply
  4. Shad at |

    Mr. Pink actually does die at the end of Reservoir Dogs. In the end, as Orange and White are laying on the floor, you can here faint shouting and then gunshots right before the cops storm the warehouse. We are then to assume that he has been taken down. The final ending then points out another classic element to the film: everyone dies. Just like Hamlet, nothing but a pile of corpses.

    Reply
  5. Little_Sam at |

    Rosebud indeed was a MacGuffin (if I understand the concept correctly). To me Rosebud represented innonence and happiness. Rosebud could have been anything, it is what it represented that is important. Rosebud represented the only time in his life that Cain was innocent and the only time in his life that he was truly happy. What Rosebud was was unimportant and in that sense it is a MacGuffin. It is what it represented that was important.

    Reply
    1. Rieux at |

      if I understand the concept correctly….

      You don’t.

      No one in the entire film tries to acquire the sled. No one but Kane (note spelling—do you think the movie is called “Citizen Cain”?) even cares about the sled. Thompson is just trying to answer a question. If that’s a MacGuffin, every mystery ever put onto film is a MacGuffin.

      This is the kind of dilution-into-meaninglessness that this article implies. It’s ridiculous.

      Reply
      1. Jerome at |

        Bla bla boring bla.

        Reply
  6. avgn at |

    i think you left out a big one…. THE MONEY IN THE MOVIE: IT’S A MAD,MAD,MAD,MAD,MAD,MAD, MAD,MAD WORLD!! that was almost 3 hours of all these people rushing to get money!!! theres backstabing, action, and a gas station gets flatened JUST TO GET IT!!

    Reply
  7. Bryan J at |

    Interesting article,
    Some other movies that could have been included are Pulp Fiction and Ronin for their mysterious briefcases, the Rabbit’s Foot in Mission Impossible III, and the mineral in Avatar. I think the movie Snatch has one. On the commentary soundtrack to the 2004 DVD release of Star Wars, writer and director George Lucas describes R2-D2 as “the main driving force of the movie … what you say in the movie business is the MacGuffin … the object of everybody’s search.”

    Reply
    1. ED-209 at |

      The Empire was after R2 because he carried the plans to the Death Star, which, if you’ll notice, was example #6 on this list.
      Also, Pulp Fiction’s briefcase was mentioned in #2.

      Reply
  8. ED-209 at |

    What the letters of transit in Casablanca? Or the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark? For that matter, I guess all the Indy movies revolve around a MacGuffin of sorts, particularly the Last Crusade. It revolves around THE MacGuffin- the Holy Grail itself.

    Reply
  9. RoyalScam at |

    Hitchcock to Truffaut, 1966: “It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men in a train. One man says ‘What’s that package up there in the baggage rack?’, and the other answers ‘Oh, that’s a McGuffin’. The first one asks ‘What’s a McGuffin?’. ‘Well’, the other man says, ‘It’s an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands’. The first man says ‘But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands’, and the other one answers ‘Well, then that’s no McGuffin!’. So you see, a McGuffin is nothing at all.”

    I don’t know why you wouldn’t just rely on the definition given by the guy who invented the damn thing.

    Match each film listed above to this verbatim quote from the Master and see what’s what.

    Reply
  10. Marc at |

    What about the aliens in the trunk of the Chevy Malibu in Repo Man? It’s like a double MacGuffin. You could change the aliens to military secrets or you could change the car to, say, an ice chest.

    Reply
  11. dooodoe at |

    wtf? why isnt pulpfiction on here? that suitcase is by far the most famous macguffin of all time

    Reply
  12. Carl Copeland at |

    Kiss Me Deadly is not an example of a MacGuffin. If it is central to the plot, yet both the audience and characters care about it then it is NOT a Macguffin, which the box in Kiss Me Deadly clearly is. The film is a commentary on Cold War/Nuclear paranoia so it is therefore central. Plus the ending is a central aspect to the plot. The best example of a Macguffin is in Psycho, the $40,000, it drives many of the characters in the plot, but the audience don’t really care and by the end of the narrative, it is really insignificant.

    Reply

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