7 Iconic Film Locations to Visit on the Maltese Islands
What do blockbusters Gladiator, Troy, World War Z, and Jurassic World Dominion have in common? They were all filmed, at least partially, on the islands of Malta, Gozo, and Comino. As it turns out, Malta’s unusual blend of ancient and modern, Semitic and Latin European, island and city landscape makes it a very popular target for filmmakers. Directors the likes of Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Michael Bay, Wolfgang Petersen and Guy Ritchie have all left their mark on this tiny Mediterranean archipelago, and brought with them some of the most recognisable names in Hollywood to star in their movies. Read on to find out about some of Malta and Gozo’s most iconic film locations.
Malta Film Studios & Fort Ricasoli – Gladiator, Troy & more
Starting off with what some might deem as too on the nose is the Malta Film Studios, where the Malta Film Commission is headquartered. Most if not all productions made in this island nation were at least partly filmed at these studios located in Kalkara, in Malta’s southern region. Just 1.3km away lies the dilapidated yet still intact Fort Ricasoli, Europe’s largest fort. Leased to the Malta Film Commission, it serves as a fictional Port Royal in Cutthroat Island, Rome in Gladiator, Troy in Troy, and Alexandria in Agora. You’ll also unwittingly see it in Assassin’s Creed, and Entebbe, as well as the TV miniseries Julius Caesar (for which a set dubbed the “Roman Road” was built and subsequently used for future productions), Helen of Troy, and perhaps most famously, the first season of Game of Thrones (GoT), in scenes depicting the Red Keep.
These productions alone brought Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Brad Pitt, Geena Davis, and Rachel Weisz to Malta, to name a few. The Malta Film Studios can be viewed via private tour on select days of the year; however, Fort Ricasoli offers no such opportunity and is never open to the general public.
Mdina (and Rabat) – Game of Thrones, The Count of Monte Cristo & more
Standing atop one of Malta’s highest points is the island’s first capital of more than 2,000 years, nicknamed the Silent City, which features centuries-old houses, manors, and churches lining narrow, winding, cobbled streets lit by dim lanterns. Its mystical, Medieval quality has attracted many filmmakers to use Mdina, among other Maltese localities, as the backdrop for their productions, such as The Count of Monte Cristo, using the streets around St Paul’s Cathedral to portray an area in Rome. Also disguised as Roman is a piazza in neighbouring Rabat in the action movie Munich. Magazine Street poses as an Egyptian market in the story about mathematician-astronomer-philosopher Hypatia in the movie Agora. Finally, the Mdina Gate, its moated egress, and Mesquita Square, home to the brothel of character Littlefinger, can all be seen in GoT. St Dominic’s Priory in Rabat also features in this HBO hit. Other noteworthy productions with scenes shot in Mdina are Cutthroat Island, Revelation, and the TV opera film The Death of Klinghoffer.
Valletta – World War Z, Assassin’s Creed, Jurassic World & more
Malta’s bustling capital city is a perfect blend of the old and new world, with traditional and modern architecture standing side by side, and multiple restaurants, cafes and wineries lining the many narrow streets all crossing each other in a grid pattern. All this is surrounded by the stunning Grand Harbour. It’s no wonder that filmmakers have flocked to this Mediterranean capital to produce blockbusters the likes of World War Z, Cutthroat Island, and Assassin’s Creed, in which Valletta stands in for Jerusalem (and does so a second time in Murder on the Orient Express), Jamaica, and Spain respectively. Fort St Elmo, famous for its role in the Great Siege, reprises its central role time and again in The Count of Monte Cristo as Marseille, A Different Loyalty as a Beirut street market, and Midnight Express as a Turkish prison (the latter movie of which also features Merchant Street posing as a Turkish souk and St Paul’s street as the protagonist’s attempted escape route). We can also see Valletta’s fisheries in Kon Tiki, and Republic Street standing in for Athens in Munich. Nowhere does Valletta shine brighter, however, than in 2022’s Jurassic World Dominion, where for once, the city (and by extension, the country) represents itself.
Vittoriosa (and Senglea)- The Da Vinci Code, Captain Philips & more
Lying in the south of Malta is the shortest-reigning capital (1530-1571): Birgu, aka Vittoriosa. One of the famously dubbed Three Cities, this charming fortified city is the location for several scenes from The Da Vinci Code and Gladiator. An area right next to the harbour, known as Xatt ir-Riżq, is used for a chase sequence in Cutthroat Island and stands in for Genoa in Daniel Deronda. One can also spot this strip, which connects to the breath-taking Grand Harbour, in Swept Away and Count of Monte Cristo. An area of the Grand Harbour in Vittoriosa’s less famous sister city, L-Isla aka Senglea, is where scenes from Captain Philips were shot, which stood in for the African coast and had Tom Hanks starring as the titular character.
Popeye Village, Mellieha
Credited with putting Malta on Hollywood’s radar is 1980’s Popeye, starring Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall, for which an elaborate set was built in Mellieha’s Anchor Bay, where visitors are welcome to sunbathe and swim. This 7-month-long project is a recreation of the village known as Sweethaven, Popeye’s comic book home. Today an open-air museum with animators and games to entertain the kids, this set is not only still standing; it’s a family attraction. One of the world’s only purpose-built sets preserved in near-perfect condition, this list would be incomplete without Popeye Village.
Gozo – By the Sea, Clash of the Titans, GoT and more
Venturing north to Malta’s greener and quainter sister island of Gozo is where one will find the picturesque bay of Mġarr ix-Xini, which serves as the southern French location of Brangelina’s hotel in By The Sea. That movie also features Gozo’s capital, Rabat, and the Sannat Parish Church. The once world-famous Azure Window, prominent in Clash of the Titans, The Count of Monte Cristo, and GoT (during Daenerys’ wedding to Khal Drogo), sadly collapsed in 2018. The area, known as Dwejra, is now a popular dive site. Gozo’s fortified hilltop city known simply as Ċittadella doubles as a fort in Greece in BBC’s Byron, and a scene depicting a funeral pyre was shot in Ramla Bay. The Da Vinci Code also had many scenes shot in Gozo, but the majority were cut citing blasphemous reasons.
Comino – Helen of Troy, Swept Away and The Count of Monte Cristo
Malta’s smallest of the three main islands, Comino, has definitely had its fair share of the spotlight too. The Blue Lagoon, renowned for its crystal-clear water and attracting millions of visitors every year, can be seen in a dive scene starring Madonna in Swept Away, a spearfishing scene in miniseries Helen of Troy, as well as in Troy. St Mary’s Tower, posing as Chateau D’If in Marseille, can be seen in The Count of Monte Cristo.
Other noteworthy locations
- The 19th century Palazzo Parisio in Naxxar appears as two different French castles in Count of Monte Cristo, an Italian villa and palazzo in BBC’s Byron, and as a Genoa hotel in Daniel Deronda.
- The bombed Olympic Hotel in Cyprus seen in Munich is really the Primera Hotel in Buġibba.
- One can also observe the Sliema promenade in Munich, doubling as Tel Aviv.
- In addition to the Grand Harbour, Captain Philips’ Indian Ocean also extended to the Freeport Terminals of Birżebbuġa and Marsaxlokk.
- Many of Troy’s fight scenes were shot at Għajn Tuffieħa.
- San Anton Garden Palace and Gardens are often seen in the first season of GoT standing in for the Red Keep.
- GoT’s epic scene depicting Daenerys Targaryen’s emergence from the flames unscathed wearing nothing but her baby dragons was shot at Mtaħleb Cliffs.