MacGuffin McMuffin.

In any story, there’s this thing. The object or mission people are looking for. The Maltese Falcon, The Ark of the Covenant, A Caterpillar. Drive. What’s your MacGuffin? The plot device that sets everything in motion. Stolen plans? Operation Grand Slam? Is there one above the rest?


This video is a pretty good overview of what a MacGuffin is, and the difference between a Hitchcock-type (the object itself is ultimately meaningless to the story) and a Lucas-type (the object is the center of the story).


I think it’s not “any story”. I think it’s very specifically thrillers, and often mysteries or action films.

A love story doesn’t have a MacGuffin, unless you count “love”* as a MacGuffin. Comedies, musicals, sci-fi and horror often don’t have MacGuffins. Action films don’t need them, nor do Westerns. Drama, of course, seldom has a MacGuffin.

I was reading something from the '30s, before Hitch popularized the term, and came across a different word for “MacGuffin” which now eludes me. :frowning_face:

I’m a fan of things in car trunks, myself, like Kiss Me Deadly or Repo Man.

It’s also fun to find the MacGuffin where you might not expect one. Like the ruby slippers in Wizard of Oz.

  • A MacGuffin can’t really be an intangible. It has to be a unique item that cannot be obtained without physically taking it, or it cannot serve the purpose.

A love story? Titanic (1997) had a MacGuffin. The Heart of the Ocean. The Bridges of Madison County (1995) had the will request and the investigation behind it. Somewhere in Time (1980) introduces a pocket watch that lures Christopher Reeve back in time. Sleepless in Seattle (1993) involves a child calling a radio show that is heard by Mrs. Right. Not every film has one but it is present in every genre and kind of story. Horror, Musicals, Sci-Fi. So what I should say is every type or genre typically has an example. Just not every one.


Serendipity is a romance movie with a Macguffin as well.


My personal MacGuffin is an egg MacGuffin, which is funny because I don’t like eggs. That counts as character depth and makes the audience wonder about my backstory.


1970, Ryan O’ Neal, Ali McGraw: Love means never having to say you’re sorry.

What’s the MacGuffin there? Cancer?

Ah, but Titanic has a love story, it isn’t a love story. It’s a disaster picture.

Also, The Heart of the Ocean isn’t really a MacGuffin.

Kate Winslet is the MacGuffin.

[janeanegarofalo]That’s the best book.[/janeanegarofalo]

Your description of a MacGuffin is somewhat contrary: Is it the object people or looking for or the plot device that sets everything in motion.

To use the Wizard of Oz again, is the MacGuffin the ruby slippers, or is it the tornado?

It sure does. What’s the MacGuffin there?

You could argue, I suppose, that it’s Tom Hanks’ radio persona, the titular Sleepless in Seattle. But I maintain a MacGuffin has to be a thing. Hitch popularized the term and that’s how he meant it.

Oh, sure. But it’s almost a meaningless statement at that point, don’t you think?

I mean, you could just as well say, “every type or genre typically has an example of spontaneous combustion”. (I think I could back that up, even.)

Anyone else think it’s odd for Lucas to say R2D2 is the MacGuffin of Star Wars? It’s really the plans he’s carrying. (He does divulge those at some point, right? It’s been a while.)

Anyway, nit-picking aside, I would say that for a MacGuffin to be a MacGuffin, it has to be the thing that, when people try to get it, causes the story to happen.

That’s why I say Rose is the MacGuffin in Titanic.

Hmmm. Lolita is the MacGuffin in Lolita.

You’d think the MacGuffin would be what you named your movie after, if it had one, but it ain’t always so.

Then of course, there’s The Double MacGuffin.

Anyone? Anyone? 1979 Joe Camp movie where Orson Welles explains what a MacGuffin is? Lisa Whelchel? Ernest Borgnine and George or Arthur Kennedy. (A double-dose of doughy-dudes!)


For once Love Story was simply me asking a love story? Not a nod to the classic movie. So that wasn’t an example I used. On the whole, this is a case where I would argue we are both right and there is lot of gray area in this. Madptarmigan’s MacGuffin video above expressly mentions The Heart of the Ocean as a MacGuffin. Many would. The Heart of the Ocean is why Bill Paxton is out there and uncovers the drawing which kickstarts Rose’s entrance and then the flashbacks. When Rose appears, she eventually replaces the necklace as the heart of the action. You could make the argument there were two MacGuffins instigating the very beginning and the first act.

James Cameron himself described Titanic (1997) to Fox in the mid-90s as Romeo and Juliet on the Titanic. To him the love story and disaster movie are equally important and I personally consider it a romance with a disaster not a disaster with a romance. So depending on your emphasis and thinking you could agree with either of us. I wasn’t trying to pick a fight. Apologies. I think as deeply about this as you do. Given the Heart of the Ocean is Rose’s possession and the object is a proxy for her and her life lived and the romance facilitates this I associate the item to the romance not the disaster. I also read what you’re saying and I can see that as well. Titanic is rich enough to sustain either interpretation. With all due respect.

As to my description of MacGuffins, many directors use of them whether consciously or unconsciously contrary to how Hitchcock used them and the literal definition again as Madptarmigan’s visual essays explains. The Hitchcock MacGuffin, The Lucas MacGuffin. The application of meaning and whether or not to make it disposable. This is a rabbit hole of interpretation and subjective application. Technicalities for and against our theories can applied and even support thoughts outside of our assertions. Sorry for opening this up. It’s on me.

To my opening statement, all of my life I have strived to balance depth with coherence and sometimes in my battle for the right way of expressing things I miss that tightrope of hitting that exact note. I wasn’t diluting my standards in that explanation only saying the tradition of telling these stories brush into approaches that touch this topic. It’s up to each of us to see if that is true or not. Sorry for not nailing the landing on that. I do try to hop through these hoops Moviegique. But I’m not always successful. Apologies.

P.S. I edited my one statement as not to confuse anyone else. “Love Story?” is now “A love story?”

Princesses are often McGuffins, sadly.


Dude! Spoilers!

I still have tickets to see it. And Squanto: A Warrior’s Tale.



Conor MacGuffin


I knew Tom was just a distraction!

He’s not especially fishy, but he could also be a red herring.


Also, it really tied the room together, man.







I just realized we’ve left out one of the most famous MacGuffins of all.



Let’s take it back to our very own MST3K!

I’ve got two words for ya: GEOMETRIC NUCLEUS.