In movies and literature, a MacGuffin is often an object or goal that drives the plot. In other words, it’s something that everyone wants to attain but doesn’t really matter what it is.
For example, in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959) the Macguffin was a case of mistaken identity.
However, there are many different definitions for this term so I’ve created this blog post to help you understand what exactly qualifies as one.
What Is a MacGuffin?
A MacGuffin is a plot device in the form of some goal, item, or person that the protagonist pursues.
It serves as motivation for most of the characters and presents an obstacle to be overcome.
The word “MacGuffin” was coined by Alfred Hitchcock when he directed his 1938 film “The Lady Vanishes”.
This term has been used in various films ever since then. Although this term is often misunderstood and misused, it still remains one of Hollywood’s best-kept secrets about what makes a movie good.
The word “Macguffin” comes from Alfred Hitchcock who used it to describe any object that motivates characters in his films to act with dramatic urgency—no matter how trivial or irrelevant they may be.
It can also mean anything that serves as a decoy.
In a movie, the MacGuffin is what drives the story. It’s often an object that everyone wants to get their hands on.
For example, in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, it was a secret document and in The Maltese Falcon, it was a statue made of gold.
In these examples, both movies revolve around getting this MacGuffin.
MacGuffin In Star Wars
The MacGuffin is a common trope in movies, but what does it mean? The term originates from the 1926 novel “The Thirty-Nine Steps”. Originally, this was just an object that aroused suspicion or curiosity.
But over time, it has come to refer to any item used as a plot device and whose importance is not revealed until late in the story.
In Star Wars, for example, the Death Star plans are introduced early on as an important objective of the Rebel Alliance. However, their significance isn’t revealed until Luke Skywalker destroys them at the end of A New Hope.
A MacGuffin is a plot device that drives the narrative of a story. It can be anything, from an object to a person, but its true importance lies in how it is used by the protagonist.
In Star Wars, there are two major MacGuffins:
- The Death Star, and
- Darth Vader’s lightsaber.
Why do these objects drive so much of the action? What is it about them that makes them more interesting than other items in the movie (such as C-3PO)?
In Star Wars movies, a Macguffin is an object that drives the story and motivates characters. We all know about R2D2’s “secret” plans for the Death Star or Luke Skywalker’s original lightsaber as examples of these objects.
What you may not know is that there are other MacGuffins in Star Wars besides those two items. Here are three more MacGuffins from across the galaxy:
The Lightsaber of Darth Vader- Anakin Skywalker – This weapon was constructed by Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn to test his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi on his first mission, to find out if he was a worthy Jedi Knight.
What Is A MacGuffin Throughout Cinema
In movies, a Macguffin is an object or goal that brings conflict and suspense to the film.
A Macguffin is typically created by a screenwriter as an item necessary for character motivation, but which does not drive the core action in either direction (e.g., it may be helpful or harmful).
It was Alfred Hitchcock who said: “a good thriller should have at least one great scene so powerful that people would remember it.”
A MacGuffin can be anything from a suitcase in Pulp Fiction to a nuclear bomb in Dr. Strangelove.
The term “MacGuffin” was first coined by Alfred Hitchcock to describe the central object in a piece of fiction that drives the plot.
This is typically an object or goal that is not inherently interesting but becomes so because it sets a chain of events into motion and creates dramatic tension.
For example, it could be something as simple as a stolen necklace for which someone searches obsessively, or it could be something more profound like peace on earth.
In cinema, the MacGuffin can take many different shapes- from diamonds to guns- but what they all have in common is that they serve to set off a series of unintended consequences when pursued by protagonists who are unaware of their significance.
It can be anything from an object to a goal, and it often remains mysterious until the end of the work.
What Is A MacGuffin According To Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock is known as the “Master of Suspense.” You may be wondering, what exactly does that mean? Well, he used a technique called the Macguffin to create suspense.
This is where an object or idea is introduced without any explanation and it serves only to propel the plot forward. A perfect example of this can be found in Hitchcock’s film North by Northwest.
In this movie, there’s been a murder at Mount Rushmore and evidence points to Roger Thornhill as the killer! The FBI takes him into custody but then he escapes with Eve Kendall, played by Eva Marie Saint.
Alfred Hitchcock, one of the most famous directors of all time, is credited with coming up with the term “MacGuffin.” The MacGuffin can be anything that motivates a character to take action in a film.
A Macguffin may seem like an unimportant item or event on screen but it’s usually what drives the plot forward.
For example: In Alfred Hitchcock’s movie North by Northwest James Mason (played by Cary Grant) is on the run after being falsely accused of murder and espionage.
His only chance at clearing his name is to find out who framed him and why they did so. Along his journey, he meets Eve Kendall (played by Eva Marie Saint), a beautiful woman who helps him along the way.
Hitchcock is well known for his contributions to film. He created iconic films such as North by Northwest, Psycho, and The Birds.
One of these is the Macguffin, which refers to an object or event in a spy thriller that motivates the protagonist to act without knowing its true significance.
Hitchcock’s use of this term influenced modern filmmaking and has been referenced by many other directors since his death in 1980.
What Is A MacGuffin According To George Lucas
George Lucas coined this term in his 1973 screenplay for “Star Wars: A New Hope” when he wrote, “…a meaningless object around which both adventures revolve.”
George Lucas uses them often in Star Wars films, including Episode IV: A New Hope where he defines Obi-Wan Kenobi’s pursuit of R2D2 and C3PO as one of these objects.
In his book, George Lucas talks about how he uses a Macguffin to drive the plot of Star Wars: A New Hope.
He says that it’s not important what this object is; in other words, it doesn’t matter what the actual thing being sought after actually does or why it’s so important – only its ability to move the story forward matters.
This idea can also be applied to any movie or novel where something needs to be found but isn’t really relevant because its true purpose is simply
A MacGuffin is a term that George Lucas coined to describe the object of desire in a story.
It can be anything from an egg, to a letter, or in this case, the Death Star plans. In most cases, it doesn’t matter what the MacGuffin is as long as there are obstacles and complications preventing its acquisition by the protagonist.
Lastly, they must have some personal significance for our hero; either his past or his future.
Human Characters As MacGuffins
If you’re a writer, you know that human characters can be difficult to write. They have thoughts and emotions and worries outside of the plot of your story, which means they can get in the way at any time.
If you don’t keep them on track, they’ll derail your entire narrative! But what if there was another way?
Characters are often the most compelling reason to watch a movie. They provide emotional investment and make for gripping entertainment.
Bad characters can be annoying or dull, but good ones are unforgettable. Characters like Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, and Luke Skywalker have been around since before many of us were born and they will still be around long after we’re gone.
But what if we never meet any of these people? What if instead, our protagonist is just some guy who’s on-screen for five minutes?
Sometimes in games, the protagonist is not someone you can identify with and relate to. They are just a means of progressing through a narrative, or they do nothing more than wander around shooting things.
But occasionally games will create human characters that feel like actual people and have enough personality to be worth getting attached to.
In these cases, it’s almost as if the players become invested in the character because they’re put into their shoes – literally standing on their feet and looking out through their eyes.
This phenomenon is called Human Characters As MacGuffins (HCA), which was coined by GamesTheory.com editor-in-chief James Portnow. And is present in video games like Shadow of The Colossus.
The First Known Use Of MacGuffin Was Circa 1939
The first known use of MacGuffin was circa 1939 in a screenplay for an episode of The Adventures Of Tintin comic strip series called “The Secret Of The Unicorn”.
It appears again later in 1942’s Walt Disney Animation Studios’ animated film Bambi, where it refers to deer meat that hunters are trying to hunt down. This early use is significant because it shows how filmmakers were using
It is well known that movies and TV shows use a technique called the Macguffin to keep viewers interested.
But did you know that this term was first used in 1939? In a letter from Graham Greene, he wrote “One can’t do much with either love or hatred as an emotion.
They are too subjective. But suspense is objective.” This has led many to believe that the term came into usage around 1939 when Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “Suspicion” was released.
A good example is how Indiana Jones pursues various artifacts throughout his movies.”
Classic MacGuffin Films
- The Maltese Falcon – A black statuette of an animal holding its tail in its mouth.
- Casablanca – Letters of transit that allow passage out of Casablanca during World War II.
- A Few Good Men – A videotape showing the murder of a Marine officer.
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