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James Bond, in his various faces and reboots, has been maintaining the Anglo-American sphere of influence for over 50 years. But rarely has he been able to handle the demands of being an undercover operative alone. Along with vehicles, friends and colleagues, and of course women, 007 has relied on a library of gadgets that can go toe to toe with the best wearable technology of today.
Some of the gadgets are absurd. Others are so useful that urban legend reports that real security agencies got in touch with the film’s producers for more information. Below are ten of the best Bond gadgets of all time, used by the superspy himself before he became all technophobic and blond.
Rolex Magnetic Watch: Live and Let Die
Even spies need to tell time. They need to know when to meet contacts, attend drops in local parks and when to hook-up with their latest conquest in the hotel bar. While one of the most stunning moments in Live and Let Die is Bond’s quick dispatch of a poisonous snake using the distinctly non-gadget aerosol-plus-cigar flamethrower, it is his Rolex watch that is the real star.
With a built-in electromagnet and rotating blade, the watch not only undresses Bond’s lovers, it tells the time, it also draws a boat towards Bond to escape from an island surrounded by crocodiles… almost. In fact, this is one of the few moments when Q’s gadgets fail to help James Bond, so when the watch comes into more successful use in the finale (cutting the rope and attracting the compressed air capsule) it comes as a thrilling surprise.
Attaché Case: From Russia with Love
No travelling spy should be without a piece of hardware like this, which hides a sniper rifle butt (within which the rest of the rifle is secreted, ready to be constructed at a minute’s notice), money, knockout gas and a dagger.
Unlike most of the Bond gadgets, it really feels like the logical progression from the real Cold War gadgets of cyanide tablets and poisoned umbrella tips (as seen in the real-life case of Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov) and while it is quite low tech compared to some of the other items on this page, the case and its contents are typical spy movie fare. From Russia with Love is a relatively serious spy movie compared to most of the Bond series, after all.
Mini Oxygen Cylinder: Thunderball
No one wants to be caught breathless during an underwater duel with a shark. James Bond’s nocturnal activities in Thunderball result in him being trapped in a covered swimming pool, unhygienically used by Largo to slaughter his enemies with hungry sharks.
Thanks to the slimline oxygen cylinder, Bond gets vital additional minutes to evade the sharks, escape from Largo’s men and deal with the SPECTRE henchman’s plan. In a movie that also features some amazing underwater battles and even a jetpack for Bond, this handy, low-key gadget still stands out as an ingenious, genuine lifesaver.
Laser Watch: GoldenEye
Bond’s return after a six year wait was a by-the-numbers affair, albeit one directed with flair, given a new leading man and a collection of state-of-the-art and futuristic hardware. One gadget that stands out is an OMEGA watch that features a timer, remote detonator and, famously, a laser strong enough to cut a hole in steel.
This gadget – essentially a forerunner of the modern smartwatch – made such an impression that it also featured prominently in the GoldenEye 007 videogame for the N64, its blue and orange background acting as an energy and shields status overlay on the display.
Replicas of the GoldenEye watch are available to purchase from various stores online, including Amazon.
Ericsson Phone: Tomorrow Never Dies
One of the most divisive movies in the series (some love it, others hate it) Tomorrow Never Dies features not only a smart new BMW car, but also a remarkable Ericcson phone that is equipped to the antenna with useful features.
In a movie whose villain is essentially a megalomaniacal collision between Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates, the enemy technology in Tomorrow Never Dies needs something typically British to make an impact, and Q Branch has excelled itself with a phone that combines finger print reader, taser, lock pick and car remote control all in one unit. Presumably battery life is bad, although probably not iWatch bad.
Interestingly, Ericsson subsequently released a non-spy version of the phone, which you can still find online. You may also like to know that while you can’t remote control your car or stun people, several Bond-style gadgets can be created with a modern smartphone.
TV Wristwatch: Octopussy
Nothing says the 1980s like a digital watch, but the wrist-mounted Seiko chronometer demonstrated in Bond’s trip to Q Branch’s Indian office boasts a high-quality optional extra: an LCD TV.
Ignoring the practicalities of such a device for a moment (resolution issues, battery life, etc.), let us recall that this isn’t a gadget that is limited to James Bond. Wrist-mounted two way camera communicators have existed throughout fiction for years, probably all the way back to the Dick Tracy cartoon strip, so to see such a piece of hardware turn up in a Bond movie shouldn’t really be a big surprise.
The only real surprise is that they waited 21 years to include it!
It seems likely that should such a gadget be included in a modern Bond movie, it would be more closely related to Google Glass or even LED contact lenses than to a wristwatch.
Wrist-mounted Dart Gun: Moonraker
Not designed to tell the time, but wrist-mounted nonetheless, the dart gun from Moonraker raised eyebrows at the time of release and set the gadget-obsessed minds of young Bond fans racing. Actually, that last bit still happens.
Perhaps most interesting about the weapon – designed to be used for concealed attacks, so compact enough to be worn under a shirt – is that it is fired by flicking your wrist out. Now, I wouldn’t want to say that there are times when it might go off accidentally, but it’s worth thinking about…
False Fingerprints: Diamonds Are Forever
In 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, Bond goes a bit low tech, although the one gadget he does have enables him to steal the identify of a diamond smuggler called Peter Franks. This is perhaps the first cinematic example of an identity theft facilitated through technology.
As a child I spent years trying to replicate this, which I later learned was achieved using thin layers of latex, rather than glue. How is an 8 year old to know, exactly?
This clever non-tech gadget nevertheless requires that the fingerprints of the identity Bond is stealing are somehow carved into the latex, and the results have to be good enough to fool anyone comparing fingerprints on a large display.
To be honest, however, the real tech in this scene is the collection of apparently innocuous tools Tiffany Case employs to establish the identity of her contact, the undercover James Bond.
Safecracking Photocopier: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Is a safecracking photocopier the worst pairing of two quite different items ever, or the most ingenious? On first glance I’d err to the former, until spending a couple of minutes thinking about it.
As seen in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the bulky device is sky lifted into an office using a building site crane and is employed by Bond to break the safe. Once this is done, rather than steal the papers, 007 photocopies them.
Back in 1969, photocopiers weren’t all that common, and those that were available weren’t capable of cracking open a safe as an extra. Over 45 years later, you’ll be hard pushed to find a HP printer that can manage locks.
Domestic Explosive/Assassination Kit: Licence to Kill
Not so much a single gadget as a suite of tools, the explosive/assassination kit is a thrilling collection of apparently innocuous items such as toothpaste and a packet of cigarettes (leaving aside the obvious health risks for a moment) which are in reality plastic explosives and a collection of detonators.
In one of the key scenes of the movie, Bond carefully deposits the toothpaste (“Dentonite”) along the third floor window of enemy Sanchez’s bank, before hotfooting it across the street to assassinate him with a sniper rifle, aiming to strike at the moment the window is blown out.
While it is a plan that doesn’t come off (thanks to interference from rival agents) the way in which explosives can be secreted is a sobering thought.
Now, you’ll notice this list is void of vehicles (that’s another list for another time) but we’ve missed a lot of other gadgets, used not just by James Bond, but his enemies too. Which are your favourites? Which would you like to have seen included? Tell us in the comments.