Not content on just being a Mediterranean tourist hotspot, Malta has carved a career for itself as a much in-demand Hollywood starlet. See how many of these film locations you have ticked off from the list during your Malta holidays.
In 1980, Popeye the spinach loving sailor man rowed into quiet Anchor Bay and left that part of Malta forever changed. The set for the live-action comedy starring the late, great Robin Williams in the titular role and Shelly Duvall as Olive Oyl, was built from scratch in Mellieħa. Timber was shipped in from Holland and Canada. Eight tons of nails, 2000 gallons of paint, and a 165-strong crew’s worth of TLC were used to bring the cartoon village of Sweethaven to life. No wonder no one wanted to dismantle it once filming wrapped. Today, Popeye’s Village has expanded into a kooky amusement park with rides, memorabilia museum, water games and more.
BONUS FACT: Rather bizarrely, Popeye’s Village has also become a popular wedding venue.
THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO (2002)
Perched on Comino’s highest peak, Santa Marija watchtower was built by the Knights to ward off barbaric raiders. The tower enjoyed its moment of Hollywood glory when it doubled up as the French prison fortress of Château d’If in the 2002 swashbuckler film The Count of Monte Cristo. Should you see the white-cross flag flying from the turret, take it as read you can enter inside. Head up the steep staircase to reach the tower top for stunning views of the archipelago. Just be careful not to get mistakenly imprisoned inside like poor old Dantès.
BONUS FACT: You can also visit the actual Château d’If on boat trip around the coast of Marseille, France.
With its rugged landscapes and other-worldy coastline—not to mention its playset of medieval forts—Malta has found favour with sword and sandal epics. You can spot Malta hogging the limelight in the original Clash of the Titans, all-conquering Gladiator and underrated toga movie Agora. But the film in which it enjoys the most digitally unaltered screen time is 2004’s Troy. In this Greek myth retelling, Kalkara’s Fort Ricasoli acts as the impenetrable city of Troy. And a blonde-locked Brad Pitt, playing feeble-heeled Achilles, wades in the luminous waters of Comino’s Blue Lagoon alongside his sea nymph mother Thetis.
BONUS FACT: Brad Pitt has starred in a total of 3 films shot in Malta. The other two are zombie-flick World War Z and By The Sea directed by his then wife Angelina Jolie.
A film called Munich was shot in Malta? Quite a chunk of it, in fact. Steven Spielberg’s 2005 flick, starring Eric Bana and Daniel Craig, dramatised the real-life events surrounding Operation Wrath of God, the Israeli government’s secret retaliation against Palestine after the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics. Despite its globe-trotting story, much of the production was filmed around several Malta locations. Sliema’s promenade masqueraded as coastal Tel Aviv. Republic Square in Valletta stood in for Athens while a Rabat piazza was passed off as Rome. For the Cyprus hotel that was bombed, the crew used one in cheerful Buġibba. No hotels were harmed during the making of this movie.
BONUS FACT: Munich bagged 5 Oscar nods, including a nomination for Best Picture. This film also marked Eric Bana’s return to Malta following his role as Hector in Troy.
CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013)
This nail-biting bio-drama directed by Paul Greengrass (director of the Jason Bourne franchise) and starring the legendary Tom Hanks, dramatized the true story of Somali pirates hijacking the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama. Malta’s waters formed the film’s main backdrop, posing as the African coast where the incident took place. The crew also stumbled upon the perfect ship double docked in Malta’s ports – the Maersk Alexander was a dead match for the Alabama. Early on in the film you can spot the cargo ship sailing around the Grand Harbour in Senglea and the Freeport Terminals in Birżebbuġa and Marsaxlokk.
BONUS FACT: Until the 1500s, the barren island of Comino was a secret hideout for treasure looting pirates.
GAME OF THRONES (2011-2019)
True, it’s not a movie. But Game of Thrones boasts such cinematic scope it deserves its place here. Many S1 scenes were filmed across Malta. Catelyn Stark rides through Mdina’s moated egress, and deeper in the silent city, peaceful Mesquita Square fronted as Littlefinger’s titillating House of Pleasures. Birgu’s Fort Manoel is where Ned Stark meets his headless end. There’s also plenty Dothraki stomping grounds to explore. Gozo’s now fallen Azure Window can be seen during Khal Drogo and Daenerys’s matrimonial revelry. And Mtaħleb Cliffs is where Daenerys emerges from the flames swathed in nothing but her baby dragons. Get further details on Malta’s Game of Thrones sites on our in-depth blog.
BONUS FACT: The collapsed Azure Window arch is now a top dive site.