Essays · Movies

Countdown to Skyfall: A Wonderful, Weird and Fancy History of James Bond Merchandise

By  · Published on November 1st, 2012

James Bond is no longer merely a name, nor even just a character. James Bond is an international cultural icon. His legend extends from one corner of the planet to the other, and 007’s world-wide popularity has seldom waned in half a century. Over the years, hundreds of companies have vied to get a piece of the lucrative James Bond pie by releasing merchandise and memorabilia designed to capitalize on the spies’ craze.

In some cases this yielded tremendous collectibles on whose value a monetary price cannot really be placed; despite what those greedy jerks at eBay say. I NEED that Oddjob nosehair trimmer dammit! Anywho, that brings us to the other side of the coin, in which some rather shoddy and sometimes incomprehensible wares are pushed on fanatics. Let’s take a look at some of the things you’d better buy us for Christmas or else.

Action Figures

Bond is ready for two different days at the beach, suggesting a Dr. No or Thunderball tie-in.

A plastic showdown between Bond and his diminutive, but thoroughly mustachioed nemesis Oddjob who comes replete with hat and…karate gi we never see him wear in the film.

Poor Largo. The model for his not-so-poseable action figure was clearly taken after the Disco Volante exploded and part of his face had melted in the subsequent fire. Could there be more adjectives and exclamations points on that box? Looks like a Peter Travers film review.

In that same Gilbert Line are Auric Goldfinger and Bond’s boss M. Can’t imagine the awkwardness when someone gag-gifts that M figure at the MI-6 Christmas party. Everyone knows Q is the hot-ticket item this year.

Toy Guns

Feel like action figures aren’t aggressive enough toys? How about a replica of some of Bond’s favorite killing instruments? First we have an old-school PPK. That silencer will ensure your little sister never hears the one with her name on it.

This one is a lot like that last one except it’s an Airsoft, so it actually shoots things. License to wound or at least seriously annoy.

For all of Bond’s tangles with underwater henchmen and/or sharks and/or shark’s henchmen, make sure to be equipped with this not-at-all-unwieldy harpoon gun. It’s not a finesse weapon, but they’ll get the point.

The next time Bond has to take down Blofeld…and an entire city block in Beirut…this handy little peashooter should get the job done.

Model Vehicles

Perhaps models are more your speed. In that case, you can never go wrong with a replica of Bond’s signature Aston Martin from Goldfinger. Just make sure whichever version you buy has a fully functioning ejector seat. Otherwise what’s the point? Gall!

This one also passes that test.

Little Nellie, the auto-gyro from You Only Live Twice is quite possibly the most apt Bond vehicle to be honored in model form. Little Nellie herself is something of a model kit, she actually arrives in several suitcases and has to be put together. It’s a good thing Q is super awesome at putting on decals without ripping them.

Look at the miniature James Bond on the box here, he seems overcome with laughter. Even he can’t believe anyone would actually want a souvenir of one of the most absurd and laughable Bond vehicles in franchise history. That blasted moon rover from Diamonds are Forever still gives me nightmares. That said, I’ll take two.

This is actually an ad for some of the toy cars available during Moore’s run as Bond. In addition to the Aston Martin popping up again, we also have the space shuttle from Moonraker and the Lotus Esprit from The Spy Who Loved Me. I am now officially The Guy Who Wants These.

It’s a little hard to tell from the picture, but my guess this is the Disco Volante from Thunderball. As a bonus, it appears to come with a shark made of Jolly Ranchers.

Oh WOW! It’s the car from A View to a Kill! Wait, why is that exciting? Oh, that’s right, it’s not. It’s a 004-door sedan for crying out Volvo!

Cards and Games

Bond plays a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with some of the most lethal and dangerous individuals to ever threaten the safety and stability of our planet. But you know, board games are cool too. Judging from the box art, it looks like the object of this particular Bond board game is to be the first to recruit 007 into the KISS army.

Bond is punching a guy in the face on the cover! You know it’s got to be good.

James always finds poker to be a suitable way to unwind after a long day of womanizing and sanctioned murder. Bit of advice, let him win.

The great thing about collecting trading cards is that it’s like an exciting card game for one in which you always win. The bad thing about collecting trading cards is that good thing about collecting trading cards I just mentioned. Don’t care, buy me these Moonraker cards!

I’ve owned a lot of gaming systems in my time, but never a Sinclair ZX Spectrum+2. I will now tear the world apart with my bare hands until I get a Sinclair ZX Spectrum+2… +James Bond Action Pack…+ Six months off work to play it.

Because we would be derelict in our duties if the single greatest piece of Bond merchandise went unmentioned.

Boxes and Kits

Bond eats international terrorists and evildoers for lunch. I eat bologna and cheese. However, my sandwich deserves to jet-set from the fridge to my hammock in style. I will accept either the above box from Thunderball

…or this one from Goldfinger.

Always wanted a spy kit as a kid, all I got instead was a bunch of other stuff and plenty of affection from my parents. Sheesh, what crummy luck. Arranging these sets in order of awesome to lame, this first one is by far the best. It comes with a code book, code breaker, passport, fake money, Universal Exports business cards, a hidden knife, booby-trapped clasps on the case, and a gun that goes from pistol to hit-an-unsuspecting-moving-target-from-a-great-distance sniper rifle. in seconds. Want is too paltry a word…KILL FOR!!!

This one isn’t quite as cool, but it’s not half bad either. You’ve got the gun, the passport, a spy pen, and what appears to be a very smart-looking S&M slave collar. There’s almost no way we’re wrong about that.

This is a prime example of a thrown-together knockoff trading on the good name of Bond. This reject kit appears to have been assembled piecemeal from other unwanted children’s make-believe kits. We have the badly spay-painted gold gun holster (which should come in handy if Bond becomes a showgirl), a massive gun that would never in a million years fit into said gold holster, a badge (so he can let everyone know he’s a secret agent?), and a pair of…handcuffs. You know, for all those people Bond arrests according to due process.

Some vintage newspaper adds for a few more requisite Bond spy kits. All of them, please.

And what spy kit would be complete without a spy watch? I don’t know what this one does, but the good news is it’s enormous.

Fancy Bond

Perhaps your tastes run to the more refined, and while we don’t always do the most satisfactory job at trucking with that around here, there is no shortage of merchandise to indulge your lofty whims. For example, this Bollinger champagne limited edition gift pack is meant to serve as a celebration not only of the release of Skyfall, but of Bond’s franchise-long affection for this particular libation. The only thing finer would have to come from Her Majesty’s secret stock.

And of course, what champagne is complete without caviar? I wouldn’t know because I would never eat the appalling stuff. For those who are able to see the evidently inherent luxury of devouring cracker scoops of fish eggs, you can now purchase Beluga brand caviar and download Zukovsky brand labels with which to cover them. The character Valentin Zukovsky, played by now-Hagrid Robbie Coltrane almost drowns in a vat of his own caviar in The World is Not Enough. I can think of few worse fates.

If you’re an elegant lady Bond fan looking for something additional to complement your drab forever diamonds and ordinary gold finger adornments, why not consider a 007-themed charm…or ten? Perhaps an Octopussy necklace or gun barrel earrings?

Fellas, how about a pair of dashing cufflinks?

Don’t forget to splash on some Bond cologne, it makes you smell like as mysterious and elusively indefinable as the rules of baccarat.

How about serving the main course of your next high society dinner party on James Bond’s face?

A closer look.

If the traditional scale model Bond vehicles lack the air of overwhelming classiness you seek, how about a set of eight die-cast, chrome-plated replicas of some of James’ most outstanding rides in a gorgeous attache case? You won’t find these in a Happy Meal. But you should go ahead and order me one just to be sure.

When guests wander into your living room, the first thing they’ll notice is the centerpiece of your coffee table. True, you could show your fandom by placing about books on Ian Fleming or even a first edition of From Russia with Love. However, there is something to be said for forcing your friends to stare down the barrel of an actual replica of the Golden Gun.

And the Bizarre…

Finally we reach the venerable “and the rest” portion of this Gilligan’s Island full of Bond merch. Sometimes wholly ill-advised, sometimes fully inexplicable, but never outside the limits of our coveting, the more bizarre list of Bond memorabilia begins with a pack of Moonraker themed cigarettes from the UK. Burn out your filters out here alone, rocket man.

Remember the days when Halloween costumes meant a hard, uncomfortable, sharp-edged plastic mask and a smock with a picture of your intended alter ego on the front? You know, as if that character ran around wearing their own image on their clothing? Harkening back to the dark ages is this Halloween mask of Richard Kiel’s dentally destructive henchman Jaws. The good news is there is absolutely nothing nightmarishly creepy about this mask, nothing at all.

It’s not unusual for a major studio to partner with a fast food franchise to promote their films, nor is it outside the ordinary for that studio to engage in high profile contests involving said fast food chain. What isn’t clear is what unpaid, thoroughly disposable intern at MGM thought it was a great idea to have KFC host the Be Bond for a Day promotion. Sure, because when I think of what it takes to be England’s most powerful weapon, I think of making repeat visits to Kentucky Fried Chicken. And while you’re signing up for this idiotic promotion, why not buy a tie…again, at KFC!

It may taste like sugared cardboard, but it’s James Bond’s preferred brand of sugared cardboard. Perfect for tiding you over until dinner or for quickly plugging a hole in your jet pack. It’s true, I saw it in The Rocketeer.

Do you like to draw? Do you have the skills it takes to become a serious artist? Let an expert help you find out, an expert like…James Bond. Nope, you lost me.

When Octopussy introduced us to the henchmen brandishing the razor yo-yo, it was fair-to-exceedingly dopey. Thank goodness you can now bring home a toy model of that weapon modeled after a toy. To me, the idea of actually purchasing this for a child is outrageous when all you need to do is have them go out to the garage and tie a string to one of your saw blades.

This is truly puzzling. It’s not so much that the Bond franchise would license for retail various versions of the sunglasses Bond wears in his films. What is peculiar is that they would market these enormous, hideous eye-mounted theater screens worn by Roger Moore in his later outings as 007. You know, when he was trying to make it abundantly clear that he was far too old to be playing 007.

James Bond rubber bands. Repeating that: James Bond rubber bands. For the man who believes keeping his potato chips fresh when the chip clip has gone missing is an act of espionage.

Read more from our Countdown to Skyfall

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.