Hollywood has a serious crush on Malta, and it’s not hard to see why.
Petite island though it may be, Malta offers rugged, sea-carved caves and coastlines, blonde stretches of arid land, startlingly blue skies and historic forts, churches, and ancient villages. Malta is certainly breathtaking in person – if this country were a film star, it’d be Charlize Theron – and like her, it sparkles on-screen.
But this is no blink-and-you-miss-it romance. Malta has been a popular filming location since the 1920s, back before colour was invented and sound was still a novelty. Given its geographical wealth and Mediterranean location, however, the country hasn’t always appeared as itself on film. Hollywood pictures have seen it successfully adopt the guise of everything from Ancient Rome to the South of France – and you’ve probably seen more films shot in Malta than you realise.
One of the most popular locations for films shot in Malta is Fort Ricasoli, which dates back to the late 17th century and is found just across the Grand Harbour from Valletta.
The forbidding, golden-hued walls of this historic fortification served as an Ancient Roman backdrop for Russell Crowe’s beefy centurion in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. The fort later became the background for more ancient studs in Troy, and took on a third Classical guise in Agora, where it was transformed into the Egyptian city of Alexandria. And attention, all Netflix fans: the fort was even used in HBO’s wildly popular Game of Thrones.
While its old-fashioned looks make the island a natural fit for ancient blockbusters, a number of Hollywood films shot in Malta also show off its more modern side. Like Munich: filmed everywhere from Valletta to Rabat, the film transforms Malta into locations as diverse as Athens, Cyprus, and Rome. The Da Vinci Code used Malta as the destination for its Knights Templar flashbacks, while Academy Award-nominated Captain Phillips took place in the waters off the coast of Malta – though in the film they were admittedly more fraught and pirate-filled than serenely blue. And who could forget Swept Away?
Though many of us have tried to scrub the dud from our brains, the ill-fated Guy Ritchie romance, which starred a harpy-like Madonna, was filmed here (perhaps that one’s not worth bragging about).
Nowadays, the love affair continues. 2013’s World War Z saw Malta star as Jerusalem – Fort St Elmo and the Valletta waterfront are among the locations used in the film. World War Z’s lead actor Brad Pitt will also be returning to film in Malta once more, starring in Angelina Jolie’s upcoming film, By the Sea.
While the island’s rugged, diverse topography has long been popular amongst Hollywood filmmakers, it has also featured in many productions made by Malta’s own small, home-grown film industry. 2014 marks one of the industry’s highest-profile releases to date with Simshar. The country’s first independent feature film for a global audience, local writer/director Rebecca Cremona’s picture sees a fishing boat disaster – based on real events – taint the otherwise idyllic Maltese fishing village of Marsaxlokk.
With its riveting good looks and talent on camera, Malta is a director’s dream location. See the island shine on the silver screen – and then visit it in real life for your own dose of Hollywood glamour.