The Movie Trail of Malta

Birgu, Malta

Even if you’ve never been to Malta, that doesn’t mean you’ve never seen some of its natural and historical beauty! Malta has featured as a filming location in dozens of movies over the years, so chances are, you’re more familiar with Malta than you think.

The oldest structures on Malta- in fact, the oldest structures on Earth– date back to 3500 BC. These prehistoric megalithic temples on both Malta and it’s sister island Gozo showed up in the 1953 movie The Malta Story, starring a young Alec Guinness.

These temples have stood here on earth longer than the pyramids in Egypt, or Stonehenge.

As Malta has long been a handy place for resupplying with water from its fresh water springs, ancient seafaring societies such as the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans established a presence on these three islands. It’s not hard to see why they would choose some of the beaches and caves here to film scenes from Clash of the Titans (1981) and Troy (2004). The scene showing Achilles (Brad Pitt) talking with his mother, the sea nymph Thetis, was filmed on the Maltese island of Comino.

Ghajn Tuffieha Bay, on the north coast of Malta, was used for the beach scene when the Greeks land at Troy (photo credit: moviesmadeinmalta)

With its monochromatic sandstone walls, it’s easy to see why Malta has represented other scenes from Ancient Greece and Rome as well. Fort Ricasoli, just across the Grand Harbor from Valletta, was turned into ancient Rome for 19 weeks while they filmed Gladiator here in 1999. In fact, it was after a night of drinking at “The Pub” in Valletta that Oliver Reed, who played Antonio’s Proximo, died- which is why his final scene had to have some CGI magic to complete.

Fort Ricasoli, now controlled by the Malta Film Commission, was used for Gladiator and for the movie Troy.

Filming Troy wasn’t the only time Brad Pitt visited Malta. He and Angelina Jolie honeymooned here, and she directed By The Sea on the island of Gozo, one of the three islands that make up Malta. You can also spot some of Gozo in Game of Thrones season one – the Dothraki wedding- and in Clash of the Titans- the scene featuring the battle of the Kraken was shot at the Azure Window.

The Azure Window, before it’s collapse in 2017 (photo credit: Condé Nast)

In the late Middle ages, Malta was home to the Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem, so it is no surprise that Malta would be a perfect place to film movies set in the times of the Crusades. The Order built most of the island’s defense fortifications in the 200 years they ruled Malta as a vassal state of Sicily (from 1530 to 1798). Roman Polanski’s 1984 movie “Pirates” was filmed here, as was 1995’s Cutthroat Island, starring Geena Davis. The city of Valletta has also doubled as both “Italy” and “France”, in movies such as Murder on the Orient Express, the DaVinci Code, and The Count of Monte Cristo.

The Grand Harbor makes an excellent Grand Canal in Venice

Not all the movies filmed here take advantage of Malta’s distant past. Thanks to being a British Protectorate from 1800 to 1964, a number of buildings were built in the modern neo-classical style. You can see some of these buildings in Munich (2005), and The Holiday (2021).

The Tel Aviv promenade scenes in “Munich” were actually filmed in Sliema, Malta (photo credit: common sense media)

In fact, some of Malta’s film locations feature the current times or the near-future. Thanks to the adaptability of the streets of Valletta and the Grand Harbor itself, Malta has acted as Jerusalem in World War Z, and as the African coast in Captain Philips, starring Tom Hanks.

The walls around Birgu, one of the Three Cities across from Valletta: just add zombies, and you have the scene from World War Z as Brad Pitt is leaving Jerusalem

Finally, the timeless features of Malta lend themselves seamlessly to sets that are neither historical nor geographical, at least not in our world. The popular video game, Assassin’s Creed, was filmed as a movie here. Game of Thrones season one used several locations around Malta, including the city of Mdina, posing as the Red Keep in King’s Landing, and Littlefinger’s brothel.

The Mdina Gate, and the last place Catelyn Stark saw Ned Stark alive

Even Malta underground gets in on the movie action. Valletta has three levels of underground tunnels, some of which have existed for hundreds of years. The knights built tunnels for water collection as well as sewage purposes, and in the 1940s, thousands of Maltese spent considerable time in bomb shelters as more than 17,000 tons of bombs dropped on the island. You can tour some of these underground tunnels via the Lascaris War Rooms museum, and see them in action in the film The Malta Story.

These tunnels sheltered 10,000 people in 1941-1942

If you’re ready to come visit Malta and see these sights for yourself, it’s not difficult to get here. You can take a a high speed ferry from Sicily, or fly in using various airlines (RyanAir has a hub here so look for great deals). Once on the island, there is an excellent public bus network (each ride €2 but includes a 2 hour transfer window), as well as multiple daily ferries to the Three Cities, Gozo, and Comino. With 300 days of sunshine here, it gets quite warm in the summer, but the rest of the year can be quite nice.