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The MacGuffin is a plot device in fiction that drives the action forward.

The term "MacGuffin" was first coined by the English screenwriter Angus MacPhail and was popularized by director Alfred Hitchcock in the 1930s.[1] Within the films of Indiana Jones, this typically refers to the object that the titular archaeologist is searching for.

Although franchise creator George Lucas conceived of Indiana Jones as an archaeologist who sought out supernatural artifacts, it was Philip Kaufman who came up with using the Ark of the Covenant for Raiders of the Lost Ark, influenced by an old dentist of his who was "obsessed" with the powers of the Ark.[2]

For Lucas, the Ark was the perfect MacGuffin,[3] but struggled to conceptualize suitable follow-ups on his own for the subsequent three sequels.[2]

He raised the idea of using the Holy Grail for what developed into Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom but director Steven Spielberg pushed against it, feeling that the MacGuffin was not strong enough.[4] Eventually the production settled on the Sankara Stones but Lucas would ultimately look back on them as having been too esoteric.[3]

The Holy Grail was revisited for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. As Spielberg wanted to explore Indiana Jones' relationship with his estranged father, Henry Jones, Sr., he used Indy's search for the Grail as a metaphor for the search for Henry Jones.[4]

Following the release of the third film, Lucas let the series rest as a trilogy in part because he felt that he was unable to come with a good MacGuffin so focused on The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles TV show.[2] The series included a feature-length story called "Young Indiana Jones and the Treasure of the Peacock's Eye" in which Indiana Jones has an ultimately futile quest chasing the Peacock's Eye, an unseen MacGuffin (later retconned into being the diamond from the opening of Temple of Doom)[5] that Lucas wanted to use as foreshadowing for the typical adventure the younger Jones would grow up to have on a regular basis.[6]

During the production of Young Indy, however, Lucas took an interest in the mythology of the crystal skulls – having researched them for unmade episodes of the show – and an older Indiana Jones, devising a fourth film set in the 1950s with aliens as the MacGuffin. However, as Spielberg was reluctant to have an Indiana Jones mix genres and having made several films involving aliens in the past, the concept was tweaked into "interdimensional beings", taking the shape of what ultimately became the Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.[2] However, while Spielberg himself never liked the MacGuffin, he felt part of his responsibility to the film was to defer to Lucas' vision for the story.[7]

With the announcement of a fifth film's production underway, Spielberg stated back in 2016 that both David Koepp and he had already decided on what the MacGuffin would be.[8]

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