5 Strange Movie Terms—Explained!


Do you call yourself a movie buff? Here are five storytelling terms to store away for movie trivia night.

1. Chekhov’s Gun

Once upon a time, Anton Chekhov—the famous Russian writer from the 19th century—wrote the following advice:

If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.

Years later, the term “Chekhov’s gun” has taken on a life of its own. It now has come to mean “an insignificant object that later turns out to be important.”

A favorite Chekhov’s Gun is from the beginning of the movie Men In Black when Kay (Tommy Lee Jones) and Jay (Will Smith) are driving in his 1987 Ford LTD Crown Victoria. Jay asks about the little red button in the car, and Kay responds: “Oh, the red button there, kid. Don’t ever, ever touch the red button.”

Later in the movie, Jay and Kay are speeding to Queens to kick some alien butt. Kay turns to take the Midtown Tunnel. Jay questions why Kay would want to take the tunnel, since it’s going to be crowded with traffic. Kay then says, “You remember the little red button. Push the little red button. And you may want to put on a seatbelt.” The button then catapults the car to the ceiling of the tunnel and bypasses all of the traffic below.

2. MacGuffin

Alfred Hitchcock first popularized the term “MacGuffin” with the following explanation:

In crook stories it is almost always the necklace, and in spy stories it is most always the papers.

In other words, a MacGuffin is any object that motivates the plot of a story. Without the MacGuffin, the plot would grind to a screeching halt. It is usually some sort of mysterious package or artifact that everyone in the story chases around or tries to steal.

Remember National Treasure with Nicolas Cage? The Declaration of Independence is the MacGuffin of that film. It could be interchanged with any government document or fossil or whatever; it wouldn’t change the plot of Nicolas Cage trying to steal it.

Another favorite MacGuffin? Pulp Fiction's mysterious suitcase. In one scene, Vincent Vega (John Travolta) opens the suitcase and is bathed in a bright orange light; the contents of the suitcase are never revealed—in true MacGuffin style. Many Pulp Fiction fans have dissected the movie to determine the suitcase’s contents.

3. The Icebox Scene

The “icebox scene” is another term coined by Alfred Hitchcock. When questioned about some of the impossible inconsistencies in his films (specifically Vertigo), he responded by saying the scene was one that “hits you after you’ve gone home and start pulling cold chicken out of the icebox.”

An “icebox scene” is a scene that is inconsistent with the plot and that the audience somehow accepts while watching the movie, only to realize later that the scene was illogical. Let's look at Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: After the kids get zapped and shrunk down to a size smaller than ants, why can't they see or hear the giant Szalinskis searching for them in the backyard? Or the rules in Gremlins: You can't feed a Mogwai after midnight ... but technically, the entirety of each day takes place after midnight of the day before, so when can you feed a Mogwai? If you need something to keep you occupied on a rainy day, here is an entire forum dedicated to discussing the numerous icebox scenes in many, many movies.

4. Deus ex Machina

A “Deus Ex Machina” refers to a situation in which a character gets into a seemingly unsolvable predicament, only to be rescued in a sudden, unexpected, and sometimes illogical way. In many cases, it creates more confusing questions about the plot.

For instance, in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Gandalf the Grey falls to his death when the gang runs into the Balrog. Later, without any real explanation, he reappears as Gandalf the White.

5. Tsundere

Tsundere” is a Japanese term that refers to a character whose personality alternates between two extremes: “tsuntsun” (which means “irritable”) and “deredere” (or “lovestruck”).

One of the most famous American examples of a tsundere is Helga Patacki from Hey Arnold!. In the animated series (which was later turned into a movie), Helga is often conflicted about her feelings toward Arnold: “Oh, Arnold, how I love you. And yet I hate you! And yet I love you. And yet I hate you! And yet I love you.”

Pop Culture
Mister Rogers Is Now a Funko Pop! and It’s Such a Good Feeling, a Very Good Feeling

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood for fans of Mister Rogers, as Funko has announced that, just in time for the 50th anniversary of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the kindest soul to ever grace a television screen will be honored with a series of Funko toys, some of them limited-edition versions.

The news broke at the New York Toy Fair, where the pop culture-loving toy company revealed a new Pop Funko! in Fred Rogers’s likeness—he’ll be holding onto the Neighborhood Trolley—plus a Mister Rogers Pop! keychain and a SuperCute Plush.

In addition to the standard Pop! figurine, there will also be a Funko Shop exclusive version, in which everyone’s favorite neighbor will be wearing a special blue sweater. Barnes & Noble will also carry its own special edition, which will see Fred wearing a red cardigan and holding a King Friday puppet instead of the Neighborhood Trolley.


Barnes & Noble's special edition Mister Rogers Funko Pop!

Mister Rogers’s seemingly endless supply of colored cardigans was an integral part of the show, and a sweet tribute to his mom (who knitted all of them). But don’t go running out to snatch up the whole collection just yet; Funko won’t release these sure-to-sell-out items until June 1, but you can pre-order your Pop! on Amazon right now.

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10 People Who Have Misplaced Their Oscars
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Getty Images

Winning an Oscar is, for most, a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. Unless you’re Walt Disney, who won 22. Nevertheless, owning a little gold guy is such a rarity that you’d think their owners would be a little more careful with them. Now, not all of these losses are the winners' fault—but some of them certainly are, Colin Firth.


After Angelina Jolie planted a kiss on her brother and made the world wrinkle their noses, she went onstage and collected a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Lisa in Girl, Interrupted. She later presented the trophy to her mother, Marcheline Bertrand. The statuette may have been boxed up and put into storage with the rest of Marcheline’s belongings when she died in 2007, but it hasn’t yet surfaced. “I didn’t actually lose it,” Jolie said, “but nobody knows where it is at the moment.”


In 2002, Whoopi Goldberg sent her Ghost Best Supporting Actress Oscar back to the Academy to have it cleaned and detailed, because apparently you can do that. The Academy then sent the Oscar on to R.S. Owens Co. of Chicago, the company that manufactures the trophies. When it arrived in the Windy City, however, the package was empty. It appeared that someone had opened the UPS package, removed the Oscar, then neatly sealed it all back up and sent it on its way. It was later found in a trash can at an airport in Ontario, California. The Oscar was returned to the Academy, who returned it to Whoopi without cleaning it. “Oscar will never leave my house again,” Goldberg said.


When Olympia Dukakis’s Moonstruck Oscar was stolen from her home in 1989, she called the Academy to see if it could be replaced. “For $78,” they said, and she agreed that it seemed like a fair price. It was the only thing taken from the house.


“I don’t know what happened to the Oscar they gave me for On the Waterfront,” Marlon Brando wrote in his autobiography. “Somewhere in the passage of time it disappeared.” He also didn't know what happened to the Oscar that he had Sacheen Littlefeather accept for him in 1973. “The Motion Picture Academy may have sent it to me, but if it did, I don’t know where it is now.”


Jeff Bridges had just won his Oscar in 2010 for his portrayal of alcoholic country singer Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, but it was already missing by the next year’s ceremony, where he was up for another one. He lost to Colin Firth for The King’s Speech. “It’s been in a few places since last year but I haven’t seen it for a while now,” the actor admitted. “I’m hoping it will turn up, especially now that I haven’t won a spare! But Colin deserves it. I just hope he looks after it better.” Which brings us to ...


Perhaps Jeff Bridges secretly cursed the British actor as he said those words, because Firth nearly left his new trophy on a toilet tank the very night he received it. After a night of cocktails at the Oscar after-parties in 2011, Firth allegedly had to be chased down by a bathroom attendant, who had found the eight-pound statuette in the bathroom stall. Notice we said allegedly: Shortly after those reports surfaced, Firth's rep issued a statement saying the "story is completely untrue. Though it did give us a good laugh."


When newbie writers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck took home Oscars for writing Good Will Hunting in 1998, it was one of those amazing Academy Award moments. Now, though, Damon isn’t sure where his award went. “I know it ended up at my apartment in New York, but unfortunately, we had a flood when one of the sprinklers went off when my wife and I were out of town and that was the last I saw of it,” Damon said in 2007.


In 1945, seven-year-old Margaret O’Brien was presented with a Juvenile Academy Award for being the outstanding child actress of the year. About 10 years later, the O’Briens’ maid took the award home to polish, as she had done before, but never came back to work. The missing Oscar was forgotten about when O’Brien’s mother died shortly thereafter, and when Margaret finally remembered to call the maid, the number had been disconnected. She ended up receiving a replacement from the Academy.

There’s a happy ending to this story, though. In 1995, a couple of guys were picking their way through a flea market when they happened upon the Oscar. They put it up for auction, which is when word got back to the Academy that the missing trophy had resurfaced. The guys who found the Oscar pulled it from auction and presented it, in person, to Margaret O’Brien. “I’ll never give it to anyone to polish again,” she said.


For years, Bing Crosby's Oscar for 1944’s Going My Way had been on display at his alma mater, Gonzaga University. In 1972, students walked into the school’s library to find that the 13-inch statuette had been replaced with a three-inch Mickey Mouse figurine instead. A week later, the award was found, unharmed, in the university chapel. “I wanted to make people laugh,” the anonymous thief later told the school newspaper.


Hattie McDaniel, famous for her Supporting Actress win as Mammy in Gone with the Wind, donated her Best Actress Oscar to Howard University. It was displayed in the fine arts complex for a time, but went missing sometime in the 1960s. No one seems to know exactly when or how, but there are rumors that the Oscar was unceremoniously dumped into the Potomac by students angered by racial stereotypes such as the one she portrayed in the film.

An earlier version of this post ran in 2013.


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