Watches in movies have fascinated watch fans since collecting timepieces became (at least) as interesting as getting an autograph from your favourite actor. From Steve McQueen’s Monaco in Le Mans (1971), Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) Seiko Giugario in Aliens (1986), Christian Bale’s Datejust in American Psycho (2000), Marlon Brando’s Rolex GMT and Martin Sheen’s Sheen’s Seiko 6105 “Captain Willard” in Apocalypse Now (1979), to Casio’s CA53W on the wrist of Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) in Back to the Future (1985), James Bond’s (Sean Connery) Submariner 6538 in Dr. No (1962), and many more, these pieces quite often became as famous (among collectors) as the movies they were in.
In some cases, like the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Perpetual in Doctor Strange (2016), Kate Becket’s (Stana Katic) Omega Speedmaster in the television series Castle (2009-2016), or the clock without hands in Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries (1957), to name just a few, these pieces have even played a much more important role than simply being a prop. Time to look at some noteworthy appearances on the screen:
Pulp Fiction (1994):
“This watch was your birthright, […] so he hid it, in the one place he knew he could hide something.”
Tarantino’s masterpiece not only earned John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, and Uma Thurman Academy Award nominations, it also featured a family heirloom with perhaps one of the most unusual stories, prizefighter Butch Coolidge’s (Bruce Willis) great grandfather’s gold watch (a Lancet trench watch). As we learn in Captain Koons’ (Christopher Walken) monologue, Orion Coolidge had initially bought the Lancet in a General Store in Knoxville at the turn of the century. When he was enlisted to serve in World War I, Orion gave the watch to his son Dane, who would later wear it as a soldier during World War II. At the Battle of Wake Island (December 8 – 23, 1941), Dane realized he might not make it home and gave it to an Air Force gunner named Winocki and asked to give it to his wife and his son (Butch’s father). He in turn was shot down over Hanoi during the Vietnam war and put in a prison camp, still wearing the gold watch. The only way he thought he could save it was to hide it from the Viet Cong in the last place you would want to wear a watch. Five years later, on his deathbed, he handed the watch over to his friend Koons (Christopher Walken) who also had to hide the watch in the same way to keep it safe until the day he could finally give it to Butch.
"Look at this! It was him! All this time!"
Christopher Nolan’s epic science fiction film wouldn’t be the same without Joseph Cooper’s (Matthew McConaughey) Hamilton Khaki Field wristwatch, perhaps the best product placement in the history of watch marketing: Shortly before he set off to leave earth (and our galaxy) as the pilot of the spaceship Endurance, Cooper gave the watch as a keepsake to his 10-year-old daughter “Murph” to compare their relative times for when he’d return. He later uses the watch from inside a massive tesseract to communicate with her across different time periods by manipulating the second hand of the wristwatch, using Morse code to transmit the quantum data collected from inside the event horizon, thus enabling humanity’s exodus and survival. The watch became known by fans of the film as the “Murph” watch and was eventually released by Hamilton in 2019.
Apollo 13 (1995):
"Houston, we have a problem."
Ron Howard’s movie about the ill-fated Apollo 13 lunar mission is only one of the many must-see space movies with the Omega Speedmaster Professional in it. But since the watch was used by John Leonard “Jack“ Swigert, Jr. (played by Kevin Bacon in the movie) to time a 14-second maneuver that proved critical in returning the crew back to earth, this undoubtedly was one of the Speedmaster’s most important roles.
“You’re gonna need a bigger boat!"
In Steven Spielberg’s classic shark movie, Richard Dreyfuss, playing Matt Hooper, wore a fairly regular dive watch that evolved into a frustrating mystery for the world’s watch nerds for decades. Until 2010, when Gary and Christian Stock were able to reveal that it was an Alsta Nautoscaph. The duo reached out to Dick Warlock, the stuntman who went into the cage with the shark in the water, and stunt coordinator Ted Grossman.
James Bond: Goldeneye (1995):
“Now, 007, do please try to return some of this equipment in pristine order."
The seventeenth movie in the James Bond series, and the first to star Pierce Brosnan as the fictional MI6 officer James Bond, took product placement in the watch industry to a new level: In a time where people were still crazy about Swatch watches, Omega had pulled a badass marketing stunt and equipped Bond (originally a Rolex guy) with the Seamaster Professional 300 (loaded with gadgets like a laser and a remote detonator). The watch is not only a major plot device several times in the film; it created a tenfold increase in pieces sold for Omega, and helped introduce a new generation of buyers to the world of Swiss luxury watchmaking.
“Don’t you have something better to do?"
With an IMDB rating of only 5.9 and a critics consensus on Rotten Tomato that the movie “feels designed to annoy the audience into submission,” Daylight was certainly not Silvester Stallone’s greatest role. Nevertheless, Kit Latura’s (Stallone) performance in a tunnel connecting Manhattan and New Jersey brought the needed exposure for the Italian watch brand Panerai and led to significantly more demand (as well as more appearances in other action movies).
Safety Last! (1923):
“You’ll do time for this!"
The American silent film starring Harold Lloyd (playing himself as a salesclerk at the De Vore Department Store) includes one of the most famous images from the silent film era: Lloyd clutching the hands of a large clock as he dangles from the outside of a skyscraper above moving traffic to attract people to his employer’s store. A number of different buildings from 1st Street to 9th Street in downtown Los Angeles were used, with sets built on their roofs to match the facade of the main building, the International Bank Building at Temple and Spring Streets.
Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014):
“So what does this do? Electrocute someone?"
Matthew Vaughn’s hilarious movie about a spy organisation and its latest recruit Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton) fighting a global threat from a twisted tech genius also brought three Bremont watches to the big screen. Even more impressive, Bremont Co-Founder Nick English himself managed to make a cameo appearance as a Kingsman.
Bulova: The world’s first television commercial (1941)
“America runs on Bulova time."
While obviously not a movie, the world’s first TV commercial still deserves to be on this list: It aired on July 1, 1941, on NBC’s WNBT-TV before the beginning of a baseball game in New York between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies. The ad was only 10 seconds long and cost the company $9 ($4 for airtime and $5 for “station charges”). Almost as impressive: In 1926, Bulova had broadcasted the first national radio commercial.
American Hustle (2013):
“Don’t make such a big deal! Just get another one."
American Hustle tells the story of con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), who along with his British partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) is working for FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) in 1978. Speaking of a con: Louis C.K.’s portrayal as FBI supervisor Stoddard Thorsen introduced viewers to a Rolex GMT-Master II in gold, more than two decades before this particular version of the watch was actually released by the Geneva-based brand.