Alfred Hitchcock coined the plot device term ‘MacGuffin’ with the following anecdote: there are two men on a train, one says “What’s that package in the baggage rack?” The other answers “That’s a MacGuffin.” “What’s a MacGuffin?” asks the first. “An apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands,” responds the other. “But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands,” says the first. The other replies, “Then that’s no MacGuffin!”

The MacGuffin doesn’t matter, all that matters is that the characters value it, therefore it drives their actions and the plot. Movies are full of MacGuffins, and these ten are the most iconic.

10 The Dude’s Rug – The Big Lebowski

When thugs break into the house of The Dude (Jeff Bridges) in the opening scene of The Big Lebowski (1998), they pee on his rug after mistaking him for a different man of the same name.

Since the rug really tied the room together, The Dude sets out to obtain justice and a replacement rug with help from his friend and bowling partner (John Goodman). This sends him down a psychedelic noir rabbit hole filled with dreams, bowlers, artists, nihilists, car thieves, cops, pornographers, a private eye, a crooked millionaire, and a severed toe.

9 Doug – The Hangover

Zach Galifianakis was introduced to mainstream audiences while starring as Alan alongside Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms in the massive box office hit The Hangover (2009).

In a story of strippers, gangsters, a baby, a tiger, a missing tooth, Mike Tyson, alcohol, and self-discovery, the trio spends most of the movie running around Las Vegas atoning for their forgotten drunk mistakes the night before and searching for Alan’s missing future brother-in-law – Doug (Justin Bartha) – in time to get him to his impending wedding. Doug remains the MacGuffin in both Hangover sequels.


8 Horcruxes – Harry Potter Series

Unbeknownst to Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), his first encounter with a Horcrux – a dark magical object a witch or wizard uses to achieve immortality, created by splitting one’s soul through murder – comes in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) with Tom Riddle’s interactive time-bending diary.

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The Horcruxes don’t come back into play until Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009), after which the remainder of Lord Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) Horcruxes are hunted and destroyed by Harry and his friends as they race against Voldemort’s pursuit of the Deathly Hallows.

7 The Ark Of The Covenant – Raiders Of The Lost Ark

The first Indiana Jones installment features its most memorable MacGuffin – the biblical Ark of the Covenant. The Ark is a gold-covered wooden chest containing the Ten Commandments, in addition to a golden jar of manna and the rod of Aaron depending on the Bible translation, though in the movie, the Ark is believed to have invincibility-granting powers.

The story sees adventuring archeologist Indy (Harrison Ford) work with the US government in 1936 to find the powerful artifact before Hitler’s Nazis, because it belongs in a museum!

6 The Infinity Stones – Marvel Cinematic Universe

Not every MCU movie utilizes an Infinity Stone as a MacGuffin, but most do, along with every Avengers movie. The Space Stone provides the first Infinity MacGuffin in the form of The Tesseract in Captain America (2011), though it first appears in the after-credits scene of Thor (2011).

The Mind Stone, Reality Stone, Power Stone, Time Stone, and Soul Stone make up the remaining five stones, which when all possessed by one being grant that user the god-like power to do essentially whatever they want with a snap of their fingers.

5 The Holy Grail – Various

This biblical artifact credits its value to the theory that it was used by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper. The Holy Grail serves as the MacGuffin in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), The Fisher King (1991), and The Da Vinci Code (2006), but the most iconic representation comes in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975).

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The hilarious take on the Arthurian Legend sees King Arthur (Graham Chapman) and the Knights of the Round Table embark on a quest for the Grail, but are frequently sidetracked by wacky characters providing timeless quotes and laughs.

4 The Maltese Falcon – The Maltese Falcon

A classic Oscar-nominated masterclass in film-noir mystery storytelling, The Maltese Falcon (1941) provided Hollywood legend Humphrey Bogart with one of his most famous roles in the hard-boiled detective Sam Spade.

The story sees the private eye drawn into a complicated case by the beautiful but deceitful femme fatale Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor). Spade soon finds himself entangled in a dangerous web with several violent criminals all in pursuit of a mysterious, priceless, bejeweled, golden, and iconic Maltese falcon statuette.

3 The Briefcase – Pulp Fiction

The briefcase sought after by characters in Pulp Fiction (1994) is a meta-commentary on the concept of MacGuffins. The audience is never shown or told the case’s contents, and that’s the point of a MacGuffin. It doesn’t matter what it is, the characters want it, therefore it has value.

The mystery surrounding the case has sparked several fan speculations on the contents. Some believe it’s a gold suit worn by Elvis, stolen diamonds from Reservoir Dogs (1992), or the soul of Mafioso Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames), but considering the way the contents glow when the case is open, it’s almost certainly a light bulb.

2 Rosebud – Citizen Kane

The opening scene of Orson Welles’s masterpiece Citizen Kane (1941) sees elderly publishing tycoon Charles Foster Kane (Welles) utter his dying word as he falls to the floor and drops a snow globe – “Rosebud.”

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As reporters scramble to figure out the meaning of Kane’s quote, the Oscar-winning screenplay bounces back and forth between parallel storylines of Kane’s complex upbringing and controversial rise to fame and power in the past, along with the investigation of Kane’s final word by journalist Jerry Thompson (William Alland) in the present.

1 The One Ring – ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ Trilogy

It’s impossible to see the writing emblazed upon the One Ring and not recognize it as the MacGuffin driving the plot of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Forged in the fires of Mount Doom in Mordor by the evil Lord Sauron, the ring is the embodiment of evil.

Sauron created rings for others, but none as powerful as his One Ring, which allowed him to control other ring wearers. If the ring exists, Sauron can return, so when Frodo (Elijah Wood) comes into possession of it, he and his fellowship take on the monumental task of transporting it across Middle Earth to destroy it where it was created, if it doesn’t consume and destroy them first. While the ring’s importance is better explained than most other MacGuffins, its role in The Lord of the Rings movies is primarily to be wanted by everyone.

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