What is a McGuffin?
A McGuffin is an object, device, event, or person in a movie or book that serves merely as a trigger for the plot. Usually, the McGuffin is insignificant, irrelevant, or unimportant to the plot it triggers because it’s just a reason for the plot to continue.
As it is the main plot device, a McGuffin will appear in the first act of production to drive the characters. However, as the story and characters develop the McGuffin becomes less important and at times can even be forgotten by the end of the movie or book.
Where did this term McGuffin come from?
The term McGuffin was created by British screenwriter Angus MacPhail who worked closely with Alfred Hitchcock in the 1930’s. It was Hitchcock who made the term popular and used the technique in a lot of his thrillers.
No, really, give me an example of a McGuffin?
You would be surprised at what constitutes a McGuffin. The letters of transit in Casablanca are a McGuffin because the story is based on these letters that everyone wants but in the end, they didn’t really matter. The actual statue in the movie the Maltese Falcon serves as the title and the McGuffin. The suitcase in Pulp Fiction is also a McGuffin because it drives so much of the plot throughout the movie, and we still don’t know what was in it because the content was not really important to the audience.
Now that we know how to identify McGuffin’s let’s point out some of our favorite sci-fi McGuffins.
The Multipass in the Fifth Element
In the Fifth Element, a plot device that is used throughout the movie is the multipass. The multipass is used for identification and travel in this future world. Dallas and Leeloo need these multipasses to get about the ship in order to obtain the stones from Plavalaguna. David the priest apprentice and Zorg’s number one henchman tries to use fake multipasses to impersonate Dallas in order to get on the ship. As the movie progresses, we see less of the multipass as it is no longer a plot device or important to the story.
The Matrix in The Matrix franchise
In the first Matrix movie, Neo is a programmer that moonlights as a hacker. When he is approached by the legendary yet mysterious Morpheus, Neo is told about the Matrix and chooses to enter Morpheus’ world and crusade. In this first movie of the franchise, the Matrix itself is the McGuffin because it drives the script but is barely understood and never seen.
The Ring in The Lord of the Rings trilogy
Although it was called Lord of the Rings there was only one ring. The whole point of the story was to destroy the ring to prevent Sauron from taking over Middle Earth. As this was the driving force of the plot for 3 movies the story was more about the journey of our heroes and how they got there to destroy the ring. Yes, eventually the ring was destroyed to defeat Sauron, but the movie was more about the fellowship of the ones who took on the task of getting it there. It was about Aragon claiming his heritage. It was about the strong friendship of Sam and Frodo. It was about Gandalf’s journey in becoming a more powerful wizard. It was never about the actual ring they were to protect then destroy.
The plans for the Death Star in Star Wars: A New Hope
It’s amazing that Star Wars started off as a movie that was thought not to make it. Star Wars has become one of the biggest influences in pop culture. It stands to reason that the first installment has one of the most popular sci-fi McGuffins. The movie starts with Princess Leia sending droids R2D2 and C3P0 to find Obi-wan Kenobi with plans to destroy the Death Star as she was being taken by the Empire. Luke Skywalker gets the droids and takes them to Obi-wan and decides they need to rescue the Princess even though they have the plans from R2D2. With the help of smugglers Han Solo and Chewbacca, they rescue the Princess at the cost of Obi-wan’s life. The Princess leads them to the rebellion where she gives them R2D2 to give them the plans to destroy the Death Star. Here’s the thing: we never see or know what these plans are. The plans are the McGuffin because the real movie was about turning Luke into a Jedi and saving the Princess.
In the comments below tell us what McGuffins you can come up with.
Kenny Walker Jr