Originally popularized by Alfred Hitchcock, the term "MacGuffin" refers to an object, person or location that drives the plot of story, with characters generally struggling to obtain said object, person or location before the opposition. Over the decades, the word has mutated and its exact meaning is often the subject of debate, but it's still, at the core, the same thing. The MacGuffin is that special something at the center of a movie that makes everything happen.
Although many movies have a MacGuffin of some kind (with some being more obvious than others), we're not here to talk about the best or the most well-used. Today, we're going to talk about the stupidest MacGuffins. When we say stupid, we mean that in both a harsh and loving way. Some of the MacGuffins on this list are so dumb that they're simply amazing. Others are so idiotic that they make us shake our heads. In any case, there's no arguing that they're all pretty unforgettable.
Although the GoldenEye weapon in the James Bond film 'GoldenEye' (duh) isn't nearly as silly as some of the other objects on this list, it earns its spot for its wonderfully absurd name. Named after Bond creator Ian Fleming's Jamaican estate, the GoldenEye is a top secret weapons satellite that can fire an electromagnetic pulse anywhere on earth, taking down the infrastructure of an entire nation in seconds. Naturally, the controls to GoldenEye fall into the hands of a traitorous former 00-agent and it's up to 007 to retrieve the weapon, kill the bad guy and save the world. Movie doomsday weapons tend to have silly names (which are usually painfully forced acronyms), but what makes GoldenEye special is that it doesn't stand for anything. It's apparently just a scary-sounding name that some lonely scientist thought up one day and it stuck.
The entire plot of J.J. Abrams' 'Mission: Impossible III' revolves around a device known as "The Rabbit's Foot." What is it? Who knows. What does it do? That's classified? Why does Philip Seymour Hoffman's baddie want it so badly? Because he's the villain of course! The Rabbit's Foot is a MacGuffin in the purest sense of the word, in that its identity and purpose are intentionally obscured and it only exists to drive the plot. 'Mission: Impossible III' may be a solid action film, but there are only so many times that it can cheekily dodge what the Rabbit's Foot is before you just want to punch the movie in the stomach and demand that it stop being such a withholding little jerk.
Dan Brown's fiction has come under attack countless times from countless sources and we're just going to add to the dogpile here. In Ron Howard's adaption of Brown's novel 'Angels and Demons,' Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is tasked with saving the day after some villainous types kidnap four Catholic leaders and threaten to destroy the Vatican with a vial of Antimatter stolen from CERN in Switzerland.
Historians already had a field day picking apart the film adaptation of 'The Da Vinci Code,' but scientists were able to join in the fun with 'Angels and Demons.' Unlike most of the items on this list, the Antimatter claims to based on actual science, but the film stretches the truth to the breaking point. As any actual scientist would tell you, all of the Antimatter created across history would only be enough to "boil a cup of tea." On the surface, the Antimatter bomb in this movie may not seem too silly, but thirty seconds of research will tell you otherwise.
According to a quick Google search, a tesseract is the "four dimensional analog of a cube." However, in Joss Whedon's 'The Avengers,' a Tesseract is an Asgardian artifact (called the Cosmic Cube in the comics) capable of generating unlimited power and opening gateways for alien invasions. First introduced in 'Captain America: The First Avenger,' the item became the central focus of Marvel Studios' "Phase One," with all kinds of super-powered folks battling to control it. We imagine its creation went something like this:
"We need something for the bad guys and the good guys to fight over."
"Yeah, something vague but extremely powerful. It'll look shiny and have a cool name so people will just immediately understand that it's important."
"Oooh! Why don't we call it a Tesseract!"
"But all of those Geometry classes taught me that a Tesseract is a four dimensional analog of a cube!"
The 'Pirates of the Caribbean' films are chock-full of amazing/dumb things, but none are quite as ludicrous as the Dead Man's Chest. After all, only this series would think to take a lyric from a song written by Robert Louis Stevenson for 'Treasure Island' and transform it into a colonial era weapon of mass destruction. In the appropriately titled 'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest,' the titular object is a chest that contains the heart of the evil, squid-like Davy Jones. Whoever controls the heart of Davy Jones can control the mighty sea monster, the Kraken. Whoever controls the Kraken controls the oceans. It's all a bunch of silly nonsense cooked up by tossing a few books of pirate lore into a blender, but hey, at least it leads to some pretty cool sword fights, right?
We'd probably be easier on the Microwave Emitter in Christopher Nolan's 'Batman Begins' if it wasn't in a movie that otherwise seemed to pride itself on realism. Created by Wayne Enterprises for desert warfare, the device was designed to evaporate an enemy's water supply...but Ra's Al Ghul and the League of Shadows have other plans. After stealing it from a cargo ship (in one the most lunkheaded expository scenes of the past decade), the bad guys put the device on one of Gotham's trains and ride around town, evaporating the city's water supply and releasing the fear toxin that the Scarecrow has been sneaking into the pipes for months. It's an incredibly silly, cartoonish plan that raises all kinds of logic problems. Chief among them: if the machine evaporates all water, why isn't it killing every single human being in the near vicinity? The Microwave Emitter is so miraculously dumb that we wish it had some kind of goofy nickname so it would be more fun to talk about.
The Ark of the Covenant. Mystical Sankara Stones. The Holy Grail. And, uh, skulls of aliens of from another dimension. Berating 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull' is like beating a dead horse at this point, but this is one pony that earned its trip to the glue factory.
Even if you ignore everything else that is wrong with the fourth Indiana Jones adventure, the central artifact is still a hideously broken slice of nonsense. With ancient aliens as the subject, Steven Spielberg and his army of writers could have done anything with this film and taken it in all kinds of crazy directions, but the crystal skulls are just plain boring...until they become mind-bogglingly stupid. They spend 90% of the movie looking like cheap plastic props until the final scene, where the final crystal skull is returned the temple/alien ship and all of the other crystal skulls inexplicably merge with it, creating an alien. We think. Seriously. What the hell was that? That's why the 'Indiana Jones' series is still a trilogy. 'Crystal Skull' is just a bad dream.
2013 is only half over, but we guarantee that nothing will top the World Engine in 'Man of Steel' is the most gloriously dumb, awesome, stupid, amazing thing of the year. Granted, half of its impact is getting to hear the incredible Michael Shannon bellow, "Release the World Engine!" before killing millions of people in an ill-fated attempt to terraform the Earth, but c'mon. The World Engine. How great is that?
The best thing about the World Engine (beyond the fact that it's called The World Engine) is that it's armed with liquid metal arms with enough strength to provide Superman with an actual challenge. The World Engine has robot arms! Seriously, this may be the greatest thing ever. It's so dumb that it turns around and flies straight into the land of awesome. It's the 'Yeezus' of blockbuster MacGuffins.
The 'Transformers' franchise is lucky that there's something stupider out there than the Matrix of Leadership, otherwise it would be sitting pretty at the very top of this list.
In the 'Transformers' universe, the Matrix of Leadership is an Autobot relic passed down over the generations to whichever robot happens to be in charge. It's actual powers seem nebulous at best, but it revives dead Transformers in 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen' and 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon,' which means that it can conquer death, we guess (although why the good guys don't use it on every fallen hero is a question that is never answered).
However, the greatest sin committed by the Matrix of Leadership is that it's called the Matrix of Leadership. Unlike the World Engine, which is goofy in an old-school sci-fi way, the Matrix of Leadership wears its origins as part of a toy commercial like a badge of dishonor. No grown man should look at a device with that name and not wince. That's some real Saturday morning, "for eight year olds only" stuff right there.
Also, an honorable mention to the "Allspark" from the first 'Transformers' film, which scraped by because it's not called the Matrix of freakin' Leadership.
In the history of blockbuster cinema, there has never been a stupider plot point than the Loom of Fate in 'Wanted.' The key tool of the assassin clan known as The Fraternity, the Loom of Fate is used to predict which people will cause trouble in the future, letting the group eliminate bad guys to make for a better tomorrow. If you haven't seen the film, you may be imagining the Loom of Fate as some kind of advanced computer program. It's not. It's literally a loom. It is a large device that weaves cloth. The badass assassins pick their targets by reading messages from a magical loom.
Most of 'Wanted' is forgettable action nonsense, but once you've seen the Loom of Fate, you'll never forget it. Yes, there is a move where trained killers rely on a textile machine to tell them what to do.