Petite though it may be, Malta offers a spectacular variety of landscapes, from blonde stretches of arid land and rugged, sea-carved coastlines to startling blue skies and ancient medieval architecture. If Malta is breathtaking in person, it certainly sparkles on-screen. The island has been a popular filming location since 1925, when it starred in silent movie, Sons of the Sea. In almost one hundred years, just over the same number of movies have used Malta, and its even smaller (though just as heavenly) islands of Gozo and Comino, as their golden-hued settings.
Owing to its topographical wealth and Mediterranean features, however, Malta often stands in for other locations. Hollywood pictures have seen it successfully adopt the guise of Ancient Rome and the modern-day Middle East; chances are, you’ve seen a lot more movies shot in Malta than you realise.
One of the country’s most popular filming locations is the imposing 17th century Fort Ricasoli, just across the Grand Harbour from the Maltese capital of Valletta. It served as an Ancient Roman backdrop for Russell Crowe’s beefy centurion in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000), and later featured as Ancient Greece in Troy (2004) and then the Egyptian city of Alexandria in Agora (2009).
Though filming moved elsewhere after Season One, Game of Thrones fans will be hard-pressed to fit every Maltese landmark that appeared in the series into a single trip. The hilltop old capital of Mdina, with its familiar Old Gate and labyrinth of honey-coloured cobbled streets, is as close as you can get to Kings Landing in real life (though thankfully a less mucky version). Fort Ricasoli, St Dominic’s Priory in nearby Rabat, and San Anton Palace and Gardens in Balzan also served as the Red Keep.
While its old-fashioned looks make the island a natural fit for blockbusters set in the past, a number of Hollywood movies shot in Malta also showcase its more contemporary side. Bond aficionados will recognise in Valletta scenery from the Roger Moore and Sean Connery movies, including The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Never Say Never Again (1983).
Set in the aftermath of Black September in the early ‘70s, Munich (2005) features everywhere from the capital to Rabat, transforming Malta into locations as diverse as modern-day Athens, Cyprus and Rome. Academy Award-nominated thriller Captain Phillips (2013) was shot in the waters off the coast of the island – though admittedly in the movie they look considerably less idyllic.
The love affair continues. Angelina Jolie’s 2015 story of a troubled husband and wife, By the Sea, was set entirely in France, and yet filmed from start to finish on the Maltese island of Gozo. The movie might have been poorly received by the critics, but it undoubtedly shows off the beauty of the archipelago. 2016 brought a succession of action-packed movies shot on the mainland. Valletta’s Basilica of St Dominic and Grand Master’s Palace posed as a murky 15th century Seville in the Assassin’s Creed movie starring Michael Fassbender, while Mosta, in central Malta, became modern day Libya in 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, which documents the 2012 terrorist attack on the American embassy. Kevin Reynolds also used the island’s sun-baked plains for his all-star Biblical epic, Risen.
It isn’t just Hollywood that has taken advantage of Malta’s ancient towns and coastal beauty; the island’s own small, home-grown movie industry has also made use of the spectacular landscapes of the archipelago. 2014 marked one of Malta’s highest-profile releases to date with Simshar. The country’s first independent feature film for a global audience, local writer and director Rebecca Cremona’s picture sees a fishing boat disaster – based on real life events – taint the otherwise idyllic Maltese fishing village of Marsaxlokk.
With its photogenic good looks, Malta is a director’s dream movie location. See the island shine on the silver screen – and then visit yourself for your own dose of glamour.
Are you an art lover or culture vulture holidaying in Malta? Well, you’ll be pleased to find that this Mediterranean island may be small, but it packs a punch when it comes to art and culture. Here are six recommended destinations to add to your itinerary to experience the best of Malta’s art scene.