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Way too broad[edit]

This article needs some serious help. My understanding is that a "MacGuffin" is an actual, physical object that the characters chase. The term "MacGuffin" is an ironic way of saying that the actual object itself is unimportant--it could be anything, as long as it advances the plot by giving the characters something to do. The briefcase in Ronin and the Maltese Falcon are excellent examples. On the other hand, my gut reaction is that Avatar's Unobtanium is not, because it is a resource--although the name makes it pretty clear that it's a stand in for any resource humans feel is worth fighting over. And things like honor or survival cannot possibly be MacGuffins as the first part of the article implies. Otherwise, pretty much every movie every made revolves around a MacGuffin! A MacGuffin must be something more specific for the term to mean anything. Is "True Love" a MacGuffin? Because plenty of movies revolve around the search for that...

I'm no film expert, so I'll leave it to someone else to edit the article as they see fit, but I just can't believe something abstract like "fame" can be a MacGuffin. (talk) 05:33, 16 July 2011 (UTC)

We don't necessarily need a film expert, we need verifiable information from reliable sources. In the present case, Avatar's unobtainium is labeled a MacGuffin by "The Quietus".[1] To counter this, you will need to demonstrate that "The Quietus" either does not call it a MacGuffin (they quite clearly do) or that they are not a reliable source for this information (I have no particular opinion). Alternately, if another reliable source clearly states unbotainium is not a MacGuffin, the section can be expanded to include a second point of view on the issue -- perhaps adding to the understanding that the term is not entirely "scientific" and somewhat subjective. - SummerPhD (talk) 12:28, 16 July 2011 (UTC)
I'm a lot less concerned about Unobtanium than I am about the following sentences: "In fact, the specific nature of the MacGuffin may be ambiguous, undefined, generic, left open to interpretation or otherwise completely unimportant to the plot. Common examples are money, victory, glory, survival, a source of power, a potential threat, or it may simply be something entirely unexplained." (talk) 15:07, 20 July 2011 (UTC)
If I'm understanding you correctly, your primary concern is that you feel a MacGuffin must be a physical object, possibly a unique one. I'm not finding that. At the moment, the reliable sources we have in the article point to several cases where the MacGuffin is not a unique physical object. Looking for a source for a definition, I come up with "an object, event, or character in a film or story that serves to set and keep the plot in motion despite usually lacking intrinsic importance"[2] or "an object or event in a book or a film that serves as the impetus for the plot"[3]. While these seem supportive of it being a physical object or an event or character, numerous sites and a number of our current sources clearly use broader ideas. We encapsulate this with the definition we cite, "a plot element that catches the viewers' attention or drives the plot of a work of fiction". Clearly, as a concept, it's fairly slippery and imprecise. Film being an art, that's to be expected. I guess there are solid examples almost anyone would agree on (Rosebud, the Maltese Falcon, the Pulp Fiction briefcase, possibly the Death Star plans) through varying shades of gray to uses that would be harder to argue (driving forces in battlefield war films, love in some romantic films, etc.). To my mind, I guess you might want to suggest a "tweak" to the definition, but I'm not seeing a problem with the unvoiced recognition that the primary plot element in many films is, in a sense, only there to move the characters and story. - SummerPhD (talk) 17:04, 20 July 2011 (UTC)
According to tvtropes [4], the term originated with Alfred Hitchcock. According to [5], HitchCock's MacGuffins we not necessarily objects; but they certainly were not abstract things like "Fame". As for the "we need verifiable information", was it Hitchens who said "That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence."? (talk) 02:24, 29 November 2011 (UTC)
TVTropes is not a reliable source. It's a reader-editable site, like a wiki or the more fluffy portions of IMDb. — SMcCandlish   Talk⇒ ɖ∘¿¤þ   Contrib. 05:53, 28 November 2012 (UTC)
I think part of the definition of a McGuffin is that it can be anything. The best explaination I've heard is that it's presented as a key part of the plot but can in fact be substituted for anything else without significantly changing the plot. For example Unobtainium in Avatar could have been a plant with medicinal properties, good building land, the fibre optic trees, different religious beliefs etc. The only important point is that two or more people care enough to fight over it. However it probably is easier to give examples that use physical objects, which prehaps can lead to the impression that a McGuffin is always an object. Danikat (talk) 23:12, 22 March 2012 (UTC)
Perhaps (and unobtanium is absolutely a MacGuffin). But the lead currently closes with "Common examples are money, victory, glory, survival, a source of power, a potential threat, a mysterious but highly desired item or object, or simply something that is entirely unexplained." This is obviously far too vague, and implies that the term has no concrete meaning at all (witness all the confusion on this talk page). Basically, the lead needs to be rewritten, and if abstracts like "money, victory, glory, survival [or] ... power" are to be included, it needs to be in a way that implies they are not normal MacGuffins. I can take a stab at that. — SMcCandlish   Talk⇒ ɖ∘¿¤þ   Contrib. 04:15, 28 November 2012 (UTC)
I have taken a stab at this, now. — SMcCandlish   Talk⇒ ɖ∘¿¤þ   Contrib. 04:47, 28 November 2012 (UTC)

Use of the term in science fiction[edit]

Resolved: No reliable sources provided for including a special SF definition.

It seems to have a slightly different meaning in Sci F circles as being a technological device or principal that is key to the action - ideally in 'hard' Sci_fi everythng should be based on known scientific principles except for one McGuffin (e.g. faster than light travel).

Adding something like this to the article requires reliable sources. Wikipedia isn't a platform for what you think would be ideal hard SF writing. Your suggested SF definition doesn't add anything to the article; in SF, any MacGuffin is likely to be technological, simply because it's SF not fantasy or Victorian mystery or Western. — SMcCandlish   Talk⇒ ɖ∘¿¤þ   Contrib. 04:15, 28 November 2012 (UTC)

2001: A Space Odyssey[edit]

Resolved: No reliable sources provided for including this as an example.

I believe the stone slab that periodically appears in this movie is a MacGuffin. In somnambulent times of our history, the stone slab serves to spark curiosity and hence spur new quests. Sparked with curiosity and looking around his environment, the chimpanzee seizes the club. 'What can I do with this? Drive off the other chimpanzees with which I've shared water all these years.' The plateau of peace and tranquility represented by the quiet, relaxed, controlled environment on board the Pan-Am Clipper is shattered by the discovery yet again of the stone slab. At the end of the film, the man sitting in the chair in the green room hears a noise - the astronaut behind him. The man half turns, but stops. He does not want to know, to pursue any more quests. He reaches for something, yet his concentration is disturbed enough that he knocks over a glass of water. He looks at the water, and then he realizes that he could never shut out curiosity from his being. The cycle begins again in a surreal way with the baby reaching out in wonder and curiosity to the blue planet before him. the stone slab serves to move the plot along and to provide touchpoints throughout the film. Daragon7 (talk) 19:23, 6 September 2012 (UTC)

To include the monolith, we would need a reliable source calling it a MacGuffin. - SummerPhD (talk) 01:09, 7 September 2012 (UTC)
And that source would have to explain why something clearly not a MacGuffin (the obelisk does not serve as a protagonist-motivator, and is not replaceable with some other random widget, being integral to the overarching plot of the entire series) would be called one in that source, or the source would be obviously unreliable on such a point. PS: Daragon7, you need to actually read the books; you'll then understand that the obelisk is not randomly "sparking curiosity", but is an alien device doing specific, intentional things. — SMcCandlish   Talk⇒ ɖ∘¿¤þ   Contrib. 03:51, 28 November 2012 (UTC)
It's definitely not a MacGuffin. The MacGuffin is something by which the protagonist is strongly motivated; if the thrust of 2001 had been "We must start this space mission to track down the meaning of that mysterious monolith!", that would be the start of a MacGuffin. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 07:52, 17 March 2013 (UTC)

I originally was considering the monolith a MacGuffin but I kept thinking back to what happened when Heywood Floyd and the other members of his team witnessed the monolith on the Moon transmit a signal which prompted the Jupiter mission. I would consider the Aliens a Macguffin as they are the driving force behind all of the character's changes and decisions.— Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk)

I'm actually of the opinion that Hitchcock's original definition is the one that should stand, no matter how much Lucas misunderstands it. A MacGuffin isn't any object of desire that figures in a plot, no matter what; it's an object that will ultimately prove unimportant in the unfolding events. Hitchcock used the term as if describing a sleight-of-hand: build this thing up to be desired, and then watch as people bang into each other to obtain it. In the end, other events and things along the way (hope, love, betrayal, death etc) supersede the importance of the MacGuffin, and (upon the viewer's consideration) expose it as a plot device and nothing more. Its ultimate irrelevance is part of what makes it a MacGuffin. I disagree that "Rosebud" is a MacGuffin; it's actually an insight into Kane's character, and the Cotten character simply has to give up on it - it doesn't become unimportant. The Maltese Falcon, on the other hand, is pure MacGuffin. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 07:52, 17 March 2013 (UTC)

Regarding the (so-called) MacGuffin in Citizen Kane (i.e. the mysterious word "rosebud," which was Kane's last word on his deathbed), it is not actually such. Granted, it would help if this article more-clearly defines this term; but "rosebud" does have a deep-but-subtle meaning in the story.
If you've seen Citizen Kane, you'd recall the point where the observers begin to tell the life story of Charles Foster Kane. In his childhood, Kane was a poor-but-happy child, who was most content with simple pleasures like sledding in the snow.
But, shortly after his last ride, he came into an unexpected windfall, and became rich. Undoubtedly he pondered, "What do I do with all this money?" He convinced himself that he could invest it in helping the poor, or some other "Progressive politics" endeavor. But it seemed as though he wasn't really sincere about such motives: thus, Kane worked harder and harder, trying to convince himself that his efforts had a real purpose...which, alas, they didn't. The stress of this pointless effort led to an addiction to "comfort food." Note one scene in which someone asks, "Are you still eating?" To which he responds, "Well, I'm still hungry!" (This could be a metaphor about Kane's search for purpose in his life.) Other addictions Kane developed were for equally-pointless political ambitions, and a habit of collecting useless luxuries. The final straw was when he divorced his unloved wife for the "singer." Ultimately, Kane found no purpose or satisfaction in anything he had accomplished.
All of these factors lead up to the meaning of "rosebud" in the end. The story closes with another huge metaphor: Upon Kane's death, his mansion is found to be full of useless items that no one wants. These things are burned in a huge fire, as if to signify that Kane's life was a total waste. But one sad object is thrown in: that old sled...named "ROSEBUD." Kane kept that sled all his life, because it represented the only time in his life when he was truly happy and content. When Kane whispered "rosebud" on his deathbed, he was mysteriously admitting that he was better off when he was poor and obscure. (David Lafleche)— Preceding unsigned comment added by Thundermist04167 (talkcontribs) 08:15, 13 April 2013 (UTC)
A reliable source calls it a MacGuffin, so it is verifiable. - SummerPhD (talk) 14:57, 13 April 2013 (UTC)

MacGuffin Game Studio[edit]

The last sentence of the opening description reads "The term is also used by a game development studio as a reference to a design object which forces interactivity onto a narrative" and links to an independent game developer's blog.

I believe this, most innocently, violates notability guidelines; worst case, violates advertising guidelines. Have flagged it as ADVERT and will remove without discussion in a couple of days. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 2602:306:25EC:C9D9:F0DB:185D:DD65:8A65 (talk) 06:19, 8 April 2013 (UTC)

No response - removing. Admins, feel free to revert. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 2602:306:25EC:C9D9:4828:9832:69ED:F5D8 (talk) 04:52, 10 April 2013 (UTC)

"In popular culture" items[edit]

Yes, a MacGuffin is a common plot device. Yes, various films, books, TV shows, etc. include characters, dolls, books, etc. named "MacGuffin". Should we therefore include every reference in popular culture or would this be indiscriminate inclusion of trivial information?

Well, let's try a comparison. Various films, books, TV shows, etc. include references to "god". Should that article include every reference in popular culture or would this be indiscriminate inclusion of trivial information? Obviously, it would be a huge, indiscriminate list.

If, however, a reliable source discussing MacGuffins/gods includes significant discussion about the impact of a particular reference on the concept of MacGuffins/gods, then we might have something. For example, no article on Gerald Ford would be complete without discussion of Chevy Chase's lampooning of him on Saturday Night Live. The skits had a very real impact on his presidency. - SummerPhD (talk) 12:19, 1 June 2013 (UTC)

'Literary Technique' Inclusion?[edit]

Surely this should be included in Literary_technique ? (talk) 23:58, 4 December 2013 (UTC)

Added, see Talk page on that subject for further details. (talk) 00:09, 5 December 2013 (UTC)


the NOC list in Mission: Impossible (1996)

A very clearly defined item that in no way meets the definition "with little or no narrative explanation". Somewhat less so for the Heart of the Ocean necklace in Titanic and the mineral unobtainium in Avatar (2009). The case in Ronin_(film) would be a textbook example and isn't listed. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 15:49, 10 June 2016 (UTC)

History and use[edit]

I can't understand the second sentence: For example, a MacGuffin provides both the title and the motive for was popularized by Alfred Hitchcock in the 1930s, but the concept pre-dates the term. It looks like at least two words missing between the motive for and was popularized. I would edit it myself if I could make a sensible guess as to what the missing words are. Can someone else help? AlistairLW (talk) 23:58, 2 May 2016 (UTC)


Much discussion of what is or is not a MacGuffin. Can anyone add anything about the etymology of the word: why is this nebulous thing given that particular name, why is it capitalised, etc. Who was the fabled MacGuffin? I once had a boss called MacGuffin, he motivated me to spend much time writing a piece of software that was ultimately irrelevant. Does that count? (talk) 21:50, 14 August 2016 (UTC)

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The 2016 election as an example. [1]--Wikipietime (talk) 04:31, 4 November 2016 (UTC)

  1. ^ Gabler, Neal. "Alfred Hitchcock Explains James Comey, the Media and 2016's 'MacGuffin'".