From Academic Kids

This article is about the plot device; a MacGuffin is also a block cipher named after the plot device.

A MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin) is a plot device that motivates the characters and advance the story, particularly one whose importance is accepted completely by the story's characters, yet from the audience's perspective it might be minimally explained or may test their suspension of disbelief if it is scrutinized. The device, usually an object, is common in films, especially thrillers.

The term "MacGuffin" was invented by Alfred Hitchcock; according to the Oxford English Dictionary, he explained the term in a 1939 lecture at Columbia University:

In regard to the tune, we have a name in the studio, and we call it the 'MacGuffin'. It is the mechanical element that usually crops up in any story. In crook stories it is always the necklace and in spy stories it is always the papers.

Interviewed in 1966 by François Truffaut, Hitchcock illustrated the term "MacGuffin" with this story:

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.

In Hitchcock's films

The uranium hidden in wine bottles in Notorious is a MacGuffin: it is the reason the story takes place, serving to advance the plot. The story could just as easily have used diamonds (which were proposed as an alternative during production [1] (, gold or rare wine.

One of Hitchcock's most memorable MacGuffins is the one used in North by Northwest. In this movie, the MacGuffin is the unspecified secret information known by a man for whom Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is mistaken. Thornhill spends the course of the movie trying to find the man without realizing that he does not exist. Both the hero and the villains of the movie are chasing nothing more than a puff of hot air, making this a true MacGuffin.

Other examples


  • One particularly famous early movie example of a MacGuffin is the titular statuette in The Maltese Falcon.
  • The sum of money Jean Reno earns in the 1994 film Léon (or "The Professional") (Luc Besson)
  • Roger Ebert defines the term in his commentary track for Casablanca, where he points out that the "letters of transit"[2] ( in the film are a MacGuffin.
  • The briefcase in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction is a MacGuffin (and a nod to Kiss Me Deadly). The contents are never shown; that section of the plot is not about the briefcase so much as what happens because of it.
  • A similar homage is the surreal, glowing car trunk in Repo Man.
  • The 1979 children's movie The Double McGuffin has two MacGuffins.
  • In the film Ronin, the ice-skate carrying case is also a classic MacGuffin.
  • The FedEx package that Tom Hanks holds onto throughout his various adventures on the deserted island in Cast Away serves the role; he finally manages to deliver to the recipient in the very end.
  • In the James Bond movie From Russia With Love, the MacGuffin is the Lektor device which everyone seems interested in getting but is otherwise irrelevant to the plot as it never really does anything and could been easily replaced with a variety of other things.
  • In the movie Barton Fink, Barton is given a box to hold on to by John Goodman's character but the contents of the box are never revealed.


  • An explicit MacGuffin reference comes from an episode of the Bionic Six cartoon of the late 1980s in which the 'MacGuffin Ray', a dummy weapon, is used exclusively to lure the evil Dr. Scarab out of hiding.
  • In a 1986 episode of G.I. Joe, Once Upon a Joe, featuring a MacGuffin which “alters the fabric of reality” by projecting as solid hallucinations the imagination of the user.
  • An episode ("Chicago Holiday") of the television series Due South features an obvious MacGuffin, and a character named Mrs. McGuffin.
  • Rambaldi artifacts are used in the television series Alias as MacGuffins.
  • Good Eats episode The Remains of the Bird utilizes a fictive documentary filmmaker (Blair MacGuffin) to drive its plot along.
  • In one episode of Taz-Mania, Taz's father Hugh and brother Jake accidentally acquire a carton of orange juice and spend the remainder of the episode being chased by secret agents who want it back. At the end, they look into the carton and gasp, at which point the episode infuriatingly ends.
  • In the anime GetBackers, the "platinum" Ban and Ginji attempt to retrieve in Eps. 3-5 is (almost explicitly) a MacGuffin.
  • In the cartoon version of Sam and Max one episode has them trying to prevent the banning of their favorite snack food, the MacGuffin, which is never really described.
  • Another MacGuffin foodstuff that is never really described: the ice cream in the ep of Codename: Kids Next Door titled "Op FLAVOR".

The written word

  • Plot devices like the MacGuffin are used in stories dating back at least to Desdemona's handkerchief in William Shakespeare's play Othello, and possibly further back still. Other MacGuffins prior to the invention of the term include Pip's "great expectations" of future wealth in the Charles Dickens book of that title.
  • Ice-9 in Kurt Vonnegut's novel Cat's Cradle, is a MacGuffin, and the book includes wampeter, a term analogous to MacGuffin.
  • In the short story "Doc Wilde and the Mad Skull," Tim Byrd has his pulp hero fighting to regain a secret weapon called "The MacGuffin Device" from diabolical villain Mad Skull. (The original tale was published in 1984, but recent news has come that Byrd and Australian comics artist Gary Chaloner are releasing a comic adaptation of it).
  • In an explicit nod to Hitchcock, Paul Muldoon's 1990 long poem Madoc: A Mystery includes a shadowy, conspiratorial character named MacGuffin or MacGoffin.
  • In the 1992 novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, the MacGuffin is the biological/technological virus known as Snow Crash.

Slavoj Zizek, a Hitchcock aficionado, has used the MacGuffin as an illustration of the structural principles of psychoanalysis of Jacques Lacan in his book Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lacan (But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock). In 2003 Zizek compared the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to a MacGuffin[3] (

See also


  • Francois Truffaut. Hitchcock. ISBN 0671604295.
  • Slavoj Zizek. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lacan (But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock). ISBN 0860915921.
  • Alton Brown. Good Eats. Episode EA1C14.

External link

de:MacGuffin eo:makgufino


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