In many great movies, the plot is driven by a particular device that drives the narrative and creates conflict. Most commonly known as a MacGuffin-- a term coined by film legend Alfred Hitchcock-- certain plot devices are the ones responsible for keeping the plot moving forward. Without them, there wouldn’t be an end to the film. There are lots of great MacGuffins in the world of cinema, such as the Maltese Falcon from John Huston’s 1942 film The Maltese Falcon and the Ring from Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings franchise. But there are also very terrible ones.
Sometimes, these MacGuffins break or make a film, but other times, the damage is not so grand that these films still continue to soar. Today we’ll be exploring such a case, because indeed, there can still be terrible plot devices in rather amazing films. These MacGuffins determine the way many movies go in terms of plot, but more often than not, these MacGuffins can also affect an entire franchise’s future films. They can even shape the way certain genre movies are made, to the point that you’l can see terrible MacGuffins in the most excellent of movies.
Now, here are 15 Terrible Plot Devices That Ruined Amazing Movies.
15 The Suitcase (Pulp Fiction)
Pulp Fiction is perhaps the greatest Quentin Tarantino film to have released in the 1990s. Many critics even consider it the best Tarantino film of all time. While Tarantino has made many other great movies since Pulp Fiction, the film has essentially become the signature Tarantino movie.
While definitely being a fascinating movie, Pulp Fiction still has its problems - the main one being is the MacGuffin of the suitcase.
The mysteriously-glowing suitcase is the main plot device that keeps the plot of the movie moving forward. The issue is that the importance of the suitcase is only provided by its significance to the plot, not because it contributes to the story and theme of the film. In other words, any other object could have been a suitable replacement to the suitcase and it wouldn’t have changed Pulp Fiction in any way. Hence, the suitcase is completely insignificant.
14 The Pentagon Papers (The Post)
2017’s The Post was directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. With a number of Oscar nominations, it’s not hard to see why The Post is getting so much praise. Filled with intense drama and timely social commentary, the film is definitely one of the best of 2017. Nonetheless, The Post hits a roadblock when we start speaking about the Pentagon Papers, the film’s main plot device.
The Post begins with the stealing of the Pentagon Papers and its leak to The New York Times. Later on, they become crucial to the plot of the film as the main characters try to publish their report and avoid a court order. The issue is that the film glosses over the Pentagon Papers in the first few minutes of the film, and only occasionally goes back to them to explain why they are important when it benefits the plot.
13 The Tesseract (The Avengers)
Joss Whedon’s The Avengers revolutionized the way Hollywood makes blockbuster movies, especially superhero films. Marvel Studios had proved that a cinematic universe composed of individual films can work, so others followed suit. Unfortunately, the copycats also borrowed some of the bad aspects of The Avengers, including the plot-driving Tesseract.
The Tesseract’s incredible power was the force that gathered all of our favorite heroes and lead to the formation of the mighty Avengers. So much emphasis was put on the Tesseract that at times the movie felt entirely about it. The problem is not just that the Tesseract was a horrible plot device, but that it eventually led to the creation of horrible MacGuffins in other films, as evident in later entries on this list.
12 The Crystal Skulls (Indiana Jones 4)
Okay, on the surface Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull might not be praised by all, but it still holds a 77% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s also Certified Fresh. Indeed, many critics liked it while the general public didn’t share the sentiment and we can see why such is the stand.
The main problem in Indiana Jones 4 is the myth surrounding the Crystal Skulls.
Not only were they placed on Earth by aliens, but the movie actually shows us this, completely derailing the whole mythos behind the Indiana Jones franchise. Granted, the supernatural is a recurring theme in all of Indy’s movies, so it was definitely the way that the alien mythology was handled that made this particular MacGuffin a tragedy.
11 Luke Skywalker’s Map Piece (The Force Awakens)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens brought back Star Wars to the big screen in 2015. As all Star Wars films go, the movie was divisive among fans. Now that the debate has moved to the latest film in the franchise, The Last Jedi, the general consensus around The Force Awakens is that it’s one of the best Star Wars films of all time. Nonetheless, the film is not perfect and one of its principle issues is, of course, its MacGuffin.
Luke Skywalker’s missing map piece was the plot device that was moving the plot forward. There was nothing wrong with it - up until a certain point in the movie. That is, R2-D2 conveniently had the entire map to Luke Skywalker’s hideout within him the whole time.
10 Eden (Logan)
James Mangold’s Logan was one of the best superhero movies of 2017. The films is even nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at this year’s Oscars.
Logan saw Hugh Jackman don the Wolverine claws for one last time and Patrick Stewart as a worn-down Professor X. The film also introduced Dafne Keen as X-23 in a breakout performance. Loosely based on the Old Man Logan comic, Logan saw Wolverine on one last mission as he tried to safely take a group of young mutants to the US-Canadian border, called Eden in the movie. Eden, then, becomes the film’s main plot device.
The issue is that little explanation is given as to why Eden is such a special place in the first place, especially as it was also present in one of the comic books Wolverine was reading in the film.
9 The Jaguar’s Eye (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle)
The Rock’s new worldwide sensation, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, was December’s top underdog as it passed Thor: Ragnarok in the domestic box office. The movie even passed Justice League at the 2017 worldwide box office. It may seem safe to say then, that Welcome to the Jungle is a near-perfect blockbuster. Well, not exactly.
The film’s main MacGuffin, the Jaguar’s Eye, has some issues.
The plot device offers some fascinating interactions with the Rock and Kevin Hart’s characters, but other than that, it’s so bland, one could easily forget halfway through the movie what exactly the gang of heroes are supposed to do with it. The Jaguar’s Eye also fails to tie back to the original Jumanji, hence creating certain plot holes.
8 The Loose Obscurus (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them)
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them brought us back to the Harry Potter world. Introducing the character of Newt Scamander, the film perfectly captured a reimagined version of J.K. Rowling’s magical universe. No longer were we in present times, but in the 1920s and ‘30s. For Harry Potter fans around the world, this was the perfect escape and no one seemed to complain. That is until we start speaking about the film’s main plot device: the loose obscurus.
This was the magical dark force that terrorized New York throughout the film. The issue is that the film tried to make the loose obscurus a mystery, but failed in its attempt. Hence, once the mystery was revealed as to who was controlling the loose obscurus, there was no shock factor whatsoever.
7 Ares (Wonder Woman)
It's rare that a single character serves as a prime plot device that keeps a movie going forward. This was the case for 2017’s Wonder Woman.
An almost total success, Wonder Woman revolutionized the superhero genre with its depiction of the Amazons and Diana. Where it failed, though, was in its main villain. Ares himself was moving the plot of the film forward, since all Diana wanted to do was to kill him. Once she finally gets what she wants, what follows is an underwhelming final act.
Ares is as bland and boring as Malekith from Thor: The Dark World.
He at least gets to explain his motives, but the whole execution of the character was horrendous. He was the only bad thing in a film full of greatness.
6 The Wand (Bright)
Bright is Netflix’s massive blockbuster movie starring Will Smith and Joel Edgerton. Revolving around a police officer who’s an orc and another who’s a human, the film is an allegory to today’s racial issues. There are many things wrong with Bright, but it is undoubtedly a very entertaining movie. The premise alone-- a modern world in which the fantastical coexists with humans-- deserves a round of applause. One problem, though, it the film’s primary plot device: the special wand.
The only detail we get surrounding the wand is that whoever touches it and is not a Bright, explodes. There is so much to be explored in this universe but the film for some reason fails to do just that. It wouldn’t hurt to know more backstory about the wand and even the film's universe as a whole.
5 Poseidon’s Trident (Dead Men Tell No Tales)
The fifth installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Dead Men Tell No Tales is not the best of them all, but at least it’s astronomically better than On Stranger Tides. The film introduced us to two new faces, Kaya Scodelario and Brenton Thwaites’s characters, as well as the menacing Captain Salazar, played by Javier Bardem.
The film centered around the Trident of Poseidon, as legend has it that whoever finds it can reverse every curse on Earth. The issues is that this plot device was never even hinted upon in the previous movies, so its sudden inclusion in Pirates lore seems nonsensical. In other words, if the Trident had been discovered earlier on, many of the problems encountered in the previous films would’ve been solved.
4 Santino’s Mark (John Wick 2)
After the surprise hit that was John Wick, it was only a matter of time until a sequel was on the way. Sometimes, some films aren’t supposed to get a sequel, as its story was already resolved in the original movie. It happens, then, that when the sequel comes around, ridiculous novelties are introduced to justify the sequel itself. This is what seemingly happened in John Wick 2 with Santino’s Mark.
There was no clear mention of such a mark system in the original John Wick and its sudden inclusion in the sequel was a bit odd. The first film is a modern action classic, but the mark system is silly nonetheless. Now anyone could have a mark on someone in future John Wick movies and we wouldn’t even know.
3 The Mystery (Murder on the Orient Express)
Murder on the Orient Express was a pleasant surprise. With a stellar cast that includes Daisy Ridley, Judi Dench, and Kenneth Branagh, the film was filled with great scenes and its cinematography was tremendous.
Based on Agatha Christie’s novel of the same name, the film explores the murder of a gangster (Johnny Depp) as its been analyzed by the famous detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh). Everyone on the train is a thereby a suspect to the crime, but by the time the mystery is solved, all feels rather convoluted. Essentially, the mystery itself was the film’s MacGuffin, but the explanation behind the mystery’s resolution is so complex that prequel movie should’ve been made before this film. In other words, there are two movies within Murder on the Orient Express and the mystery suffers because of it.
2 The Allspark (Transformers)
There’s no doubt that the original Michael Bay Transformers movie is the best of them all. Over time, the Transformers franchise has delivered some of the worst films to ever appear on the big screen - according to critics. Nonetheless, the franchise is one of the most successful when it comes to box office numbers. It’s currently a multibillion dollar behemoth.
Now, despite these movies being box office champions, all of them have very serious problems, and it all begins with the first movie. One of the main issues is the Allspark. Also known as the Cube, for most of Transformers’ runtime the Allspark is shrouded in mystery and later on it even becomes a plot hole.
The Allspark began Transformers’ everlasting dependance on MacGuffins and as a result the franchise has been suffering ever since.
1 The Mother Boxes (Justice League)
Perhaps the worst plot device of them all, the Mother Boxes are just one of the many problems that exist in Justice League. Despite the movie having a 40% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the film is one of the most entertaining superhero movies of 2017. We finally saw Cyborg and Aquaman go all out on the big screen and Ezra Miller gave perhaps the best interpretation of the Flash yet. The team dynamic felt off at times, but overall, it was as if the classic Cartoon Network Justice League animated series had suddenly come to life. Now, like Wonder Woman, this film also had a very, very terrible villain.
Steppenwolf shouldn’t have been the villain of the movie, but what didn’t really help him was the inclusion of the Mother Boxes. In no moment in the film do we feel like the Mother Boxes are as important and dangerous as Steppenwolf and the others say. Even more, the Mother Boxes are basically the damsels-in-distress of the movie, to the point that the heroes even leave them around for Steppenwolf to take them, hence carrying the entire plot.
What other plot devices hurt great movies? Let us know in the comments.