Best Sci-Fi MacGuffins in Cinema

Other Worlds Film Festival is excited to announce the first feature for its Orbiter Year-Round Series in 2019: the Texas premiere of the SciFi action comedy AXCELLERATOR. “Axcellerator conjures up the pure joy of the action cinema of the 80s,” says Bears Rebecca Fonté, OW Founder and Artistic Director, “like the unsuspected gem you discovered on the shelves of the video store. Sam J. Jones is no longer out to “save everyone of us,” and instead takes on all comers as a ruthless gun-for-hire.

In addition to having a lot of action, fun, and generally being a blast, AXCELLERATOR also incorporates a classic SciFi staple, the MacGuffin. With that in mind, Other Worlds Director of Marketing & Development revisits The Best Movie MacGuffins in SciFi.

The special screening of AXCELLERATOR takes place on Wednesday, June 26 (7:30pm) at Galaxy Highland 10 Theatre, the new (and old) home of Other Worlds Film Festival. Director David Giancola will be in attendance and will do a Q&A after the film. Get your tickets here.


What’s a MacGuffin? So glad you asked!

Let’s start with good ole Wikipedia: “A MacGuffin is a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist pursues, often with little or no narrative explanation. The MacGuffin's importance to the plot is not the object itself, but rather its effect on the characters and their motivations.”

A classic example is the small statuette from THE MALTESE FALCON. A classic SciFi example is R2-D2 in STAR WARS EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE, who George Lucas describes as "the main driving force of the movie… what you say in the movie business is the MacGuffin… the object of everybody's search." In EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES, the bounty hunter Jango Fett is also used as a MacGuffin, and in EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS, the MacGuffin is Luke Skywalker.

Alfred Hitchcock actually popularized the term "MacGuffin" and the technique, with his 1935 film THE 39 STEPS, an early example of the concept. He defined a MacGuffin as the object around which the plot revolves, but as to what that object specifically is, he declared, "the audience don't care.” Lucas, on the other hand, believes that the MacGuffin should be powerful and that "the audience should care about it almost as much as the dueling heroes and villains on screen.”

In the SciFi action comedy AXCELLERATOR, which makes its Texas Premiere Wednesday, June 26 at Galaxy Highland 10 Theatre, the MacGuffin is a handy handheld teleportation device.

So, without further ado, here are my top seven MacGuffins in SciFi cinema. Are these Hitchcock or Lucas MacGuffins? What other SciFi MacGuffins do you think should have cracked the list? Which ones shouldn’t be on the list in the first place?

7. Red Matter from STAR TREK (2009)
In the J.J. Abrams reboot, the crew of the Enterprise goes after a Vulcan distress signal and come face-to-face with the Vulcan ship Narada and its enemy captain, Nero. It is during this time that Nero drills red matter into the core of Vulcan, forming a black hole that destroys the planet. Later, Romulus is threatened by a supernova. Spock attempts to use red matter to create an artificial black hole and consume the supernova. His attempt fails and Nero's family perishes along with the planet Romulus. Developed by the Vulcan Science Academy, red matter was valuable to both Vulcan and Romulus, and both were after it. Unfortunately, it caused the destruction of both planets.


6. The Crystal Shard from THE DARK CRYSTAL

Jen, raised by the noble race called the Mystics, has been told that he is the last survivor of his own race, the Gelflings. He sets out to try to find a shard of the dark crystal, a powerful gem that once provided balance to the universe. After the crystal was broken, the evil Skeksis used sinister means to gain control. Jen believes that he can repair the dark crystal and bring peace back to the world, if he can only find the remaining MacGuffin, er, shard.


5. Unobtanium from AVATAR
Unobtanium is a MacGuffin oxymoron. Its name suggests it’s unobtainable, but in AVATAR it’s a very real mineral on the plane Pandora. Apparently, it was named before it was discovered. The rare and costly mineral is supposed to make the military human presence on the planet Pandora somewhat plausible.  

The Wrath of Khan.jpg

4. Genesis Device from STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN

The Genesis Device, created by Kirk's ex, Carol, and his estranged son David, is a technology that reorganizes matter to create habitable worlds for colonization. Naturally, Khan wants it for nefarious purposes. Ultimately, Kirk prevails but loses his best friend, his son and his ship in the process.


3. The Stargate from STARGATE
This one’s pretty straightforward. Egyptologist and linguist Daniel Jackson translates Egyptian hieroglyphs on cover stones that had been unearthed in Giza in 1928. He determines that the hieroglyphs refer to a "stargate" which uses constellations as spatial coordinates. Naturally, the US Military already has one.  With the help of Jackson, they discover the Stargate is an interstellar transportation device, which opens a wormhole that connects the Stargate with distant planets.



R2-D2 is much more than a comic relief side character. R2 is the key to the entire plot of A NEW HOPE. With the galaxy in the midst of a civil war, spies for the Rebel Alliance have stolen plans to the Death Star. Rebel leader Princess Leia has the plans, but her ship is captured by Imperial forces under the command of Darth Vader. Before she is captured, Leia hides the plans in the memory R2-D2, along with a holographic recording. This sets in motion everything that leads to Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan, C-3PO, and the end of the Empire’s greatest weapon.        


1. The One Ring from LORD OF THE RINGS

More than just a metaphorical MacGuffin, The One Ring had the ability to control all the other Rings of Power and thus cast the fate of Middle-Earth. It even turned Smeagol into Gollum and caused all kinds of trouble for Frodo. The One Ring is the ultimate MacGuffin in that everyone wants it, it sets everything in motion when it appears, and every peril Frodo and friends face is due to the fact that he’s got the Ring. The One Ring is a true testament that big MacGuffins can come in small packages.

Want to see the latest, greatest SciFi Movie MacGuffin? Then get your tickets for the Texas premiere of AXCELLERATOR! We’ll see you there.