Alfred Hitchcock is generally credited with coining the term ‘MacGuffin’ – putting a name to an age-old story-telling strategy. Its basic definition is as a plot device that drives the action, and motivates the protagonist of the story. Hitchcock – widely regarded as the master of the MacGuffin movie – famously felt that the nature of the MacGuffin should actually be inconsequential as far as the audience is concerned. For him, the MacGuffin could be anything – it simply serves to further the story. This sentiment was clearly evident in his 1935 film The 39 Steps, in which the titular plot device is mentioned to the protagonist by a mysterious woman at the height of a tense situation, and is not explained further.
This attitude is not shared by every filmmaker, however. George Lucas, for example, has been noted as saying that the nature of the MacGuffin should be as important to the viewer as it is to the characters onscreen. Lucas has previously declared the character of R2-D2 to be the MacGuffin of the Star Wars universe, adhering to the principle that the MacGuffin is the thing that everyone is seeking.
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Whichever school of thought you fall into, the importance of the MacGuffin cannot be denied. Its application has propelled the plots of some of the most legendary movies ever made and has added depth and complexity to some iconic characters. While thousands of movies employ this technique, some are considerably more notable than others.
Here, then, are 10 marvellous MacGuffins in movies.