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Let’s talk about the MacGuffin. What is a McGuffin you may ask; well, it’s a plot device used in books and movies to get the story moving or keep it in action. In movies it’s usually the secret formula that all the main characters are searching for or trying to retrieve which propels the actions in the story.

It might be a statue, a map or even a cup, either way, but in the words of Alfred Hitchcock “The McGuffin is the thing that the characters all care about but the audience don’t.”  

Just like in a good Mission Impossible movie or James Bond book/movie we as the audience are far more entertained by the chase and methods that the main characters use to find the McGuffin rather than the McGuffin itself.

So, let’s look at a few popular movies and spill the beans on what the MacGuffin is in each one. Then you can start looking for this plot device anytime you’re watching a movie!

Notorious movieNotorious

Ingrid Bergman plays Alicia, an alluring woman with a checkered past recruited by Devlin (Cary Grant), a suave, mysterious intelligence agent, to spy for the U.S. Only after she has fallen for Devlin does she learn that her mission is to seduce a Nazi industrialist (Claude Rains) hiding out in South America.

McGuffin: Uranium ore stored in wine bottles.

Harry Potter movieHarry Potter and the Deathly Hollows

Harry, Ron, and Hermione assemble the books and tools necessary to embark on the quest that Dumbledore left them: to find and destroy the Horcruxes into which Voldemort placed fragments of his soul, making himself immortal as long as the objects survive.

MacGuffin: the Horcruxes

Pulp Fiction MoviePulp Fiction

This is a clever, dark film that tells 4 separate stories that are gradually brought together. Involved are two low-rent hit men, their boss and his sexy wife, a prizefighter and a pair of desperate robbers.

MacGuffin: The briefcase – seriously though, what WAS in the briefcase?

Mission Impossible MovieMission Impossible 2  

Ethan Hunt leads his IMF team on a mission to capture a deadly German virus before it is released by terrorists. His mission is made impossible because he is not the only person after samples of the disease. He must also contest with a gang of international terrorists headed by a turned bad former IMF agent who has already managed to steal the cure.

MacGuffin: The virus

Maltese Falcon movieThe Maltese Falcon

Detective Sam Spade gets more than he bargained for when he takes a case brought to him by a beautiful but secretive woman. As soon as Miss Wonderly shows up, trouble follows as Sam's partner is murdered and Sam is accosted by a man demanding he locate a valuable statuette.

MacGuffin: a Maltese Falcon

Indiana Jones MovieIndiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

It's the height of the Cold War, and famous archaeologist Indiana Jones, returning from his latest adventure, finds out his job at Marshall College is in jeopardy. He meets a young man who wants Indy to help him find the legendary Crystal Skull of Akator, and the pair set out for Peru. However, deadly agent Irina Spalko ia searching for the powerful artifact, too, because the Soviets believe it can help them conquer the world.

MacGuffin: The crystal skill (was that one too obvious?)

Can you figure out the MacGuffin in the rest of these films?