It’s probably safe to say that at some point you’ll have seen a film shot in Malta without even realizing it. Although the island is rarely credited, its medieval fortresses and turquoise waters have appeared in multiple feature films.
From art house movies to Hollywood blockbusters, cinema is captivated by Malta’s spectacular scenery. And it barely even needs any special effects to show its beauty to the full. The island makes the perfect stand-in whether as one of the Mediterranean’s most stunning shorelines or as the streets of a holy city. For both historical and maritime epics, numerous directors choose to take advantage of the Maltese archipelago’s particularly mild weather as it means they can film outdoors almost year-round. What is more, as a member of the European Union and the eurozone, Malta is politically very stable. The country is home to a large port that is suitable for unloading hefty equipment, as well as several film studios. It is an English-speaking nation with a high level of education and a very cosmopolitan, multilingual population, resulting in a vast pool of technicians and extras to easily recruit from. These are the secrets to its success.
Let’s start with global hit Game of Thrones, which chose the island and its fortresses to depict King’s Landing and Westeros during its first season, before HBO plumped for Croatia instead. Several legendary scenes were filmed in Malta and if you watch carefully you can spot a dozen of its filming locations (https://www.voyage-malte.fr/sur-les-traces-de-la-serie-game-of-thrones/). The most famous scene is the marriage between Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo, which took place in Dwejra Bay on the island of Gozo. With its rocky cliffs, the landscape is typical of the archipelago. You can also see the famous Azure Window, immortalized on film for the last time before it collapsed into the sea during a storm in 2017.
Scene from the series Game of Thrones
Historical epics abound, from Gladiator to The Da Vinci Code, Assassin’s Creed and The Count of Monte Cristo, thanks to Malta’s various fortified cities such as Rabat and Mdina whose appearance has barely changed since the days of the Knights Templar. All that’s needed is to shift a few cars, cover up the odd electric cable, and you’re ready to roll. The most sought-after location is the capital, Valletta, a World Heritage Site thanks to its fantastic little stepped streets, knights’ inns and mighty ramparts towering over the sea. Opposite, the Three Cities of Senglea, Cospicua and Birgu, as well as Fort Manoel, only increase the global interest in this bay. This was the location for the opening scene in the most recent adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express.
Shooting the film Murder on the Orient Express.
Malta’s most filmed location however is still Fort Saint Elmo in Valletta, perched right on the very end of the peninsula. The lower part of the fort is reserved exclusively for filming. The cult film Midnight Express, which takes place in a Turkish prison, was nearly all filmed there. More recently, World War Z used this incredible site as a stand-in for an oriental capital – in this case Jerusalem -, a role it has played multiple times before. Hollywood star Brad Pitt has been a regular visitor to the islands. He played the role of Achilles in Troy, before returning with his wife Angelina Jolie for By the Sea, a romantic drama that takes place exclusively on the island of Gozo, specifically in the idyllic cove of Mgarr ix-Xini.
Other films have chosen to simply take advantage of the islands’ crystal-clear waters and favorable climate. This was the case for Adrift and Kon-Tiki, where the action supposedly took place in the Pacific. Malta was also the Mediterranean base for the Allied troops during the Second World War. It therefore has military structures and equipment dating from this time. Last but not least, we have to mention Popeye Village, located in Anchor Bay. Originally a film set, it has now become an unmissable theme park.
For an island that relies heavily on tourism, cinema is a godsend that advertises Malta to the entire world while boosting its economy and valuing its heritage. We can’t say for sure as there are so many films made here, but it’s likely that on your next visit you’ll be walking in the footsteps of one of your favorite actors. It’s the perfect excuse to take center stage for a souvenir snapshot.
Shooting location for the movie Gladiator.
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