Movie Game: Spot the Rifle

My kids and I drive my wife crazy when we are watching a movie at home.  We have all kinds of conversations going, conversations we would never even consider in a theater (another reason, beyond screen size and sound systems, why I consider the home movie watching experience distinct and not entirely competitive with the theater experience).   No movie can be watched without a dozen IMDB lookups of what else so and so actor was in.

One game we play is spot the rifle.  This probably does not mean what you think it means.  It refers to Checkov's rule (the writer, not the astrogator) never to put a rifle on stage in Act 1 if someone is not going to use it in Act 3.  Our game assumes that movies are following this rule, so we look for elements sometimes awkwardly thrown into Act 1 so they can be used later.  Note this is distinct from a macguffin, and is really not the same as foreshadowing either.  The "save the clock tower" fund raiser early in Back to the Future is an example.  Calling your shot in this game, like on Jeopardy, requires the answer to be in a specific form, ie "Never put a lightening strike on a clock tower on stage in Act 1 if you are not going to use it in Act 3".  It goes without saying that winning answers must be shouted out in Act 1, not Act 3.

My daughter, who is quite an aficionado of romantic comedies, texted me an updated corollary:  Don't put a pregnant woman on stage in act 1 of a comedy unless she is going to go into labor at the most inconvenient moment in act 3.

Postscript:  The "Q" armorer dynamic in James Bond is a version of this on steroids.  The rules of Q were:  1.  Every tool he gives Bond gets used and 2.  No matter how odd or arcane the tool (e.g. high powered electromagnet built into a condom) it turns out to be exactly the niche tool Bond needs to escape at some point.   For example, one and only one time is Bond issued with a CPR device but that one time he needs it to save his life (Daniel Craig version of Casino Royale).


  1. Wilhelm Arcturus:

    Heh, we have a "meta awareness" problem at our house. Any mystery on TV is spoiled because my wife will point out a given guest star on a show is too famous to be anything except the perpetrator while I am always the one to pause to point out "the gun" as you put it. Shows have to really stray from standard formulas for neither of us not to guess what is going to happen in advance.

  2. smilerz:

    I've played that game for years - though without a name. I took a film class in college and the most important thing that I learned is that directors don't put anything on screen unless it has some significance. So if something grabs focus for more than a fraction of a second odds are VERY strong that it will be significant at some point.

  3. joshv:

    Yeah, I've been doing this for ages without a name. There's always something odd at the start of the movie, something that sticks out, or seems out of place, and you think 'oh, remember that, it will be important later', because movie plots these days are just too tight to have any waste. Everything said and done has to go somewhere.

    I wish some movie maker would catch on and spend a few minutes throwing in some red herrings to throw us off the scent. Murder mystery writers are good at this. But it's gotten to the point where even that's predictable 'Oh, this is the red herring, because we're only 10 minutes in".

  4. LowcountryJoe:

    I know you wrote this about 'spot the rifle' but I have a question about the macguffin. I'm thinking of the very long novel Atlas Shrugged. what is the macguffin in it? Is it John Galt, the railways, or the strike?

  5. morganovich:

    gendry in game of thrones.

    bastard son of robert, everyone is looking for him in early seasons, then he just disappears.

    i have a sneaking feeling we're going to see him again for the endgame.