Although Maltese productions are few and far between, the Maltese film industry has been going strong for almost a century. Malta provides locations and film sets for Hollywood and other prominent film-industry cities, and to date, Malta has hosted well over 100 productions. Some of these productions were only partially filmed here while others were entirely shot here from the first “action!” call to the last frame. There’s something telling about the Maltese landscape and locations when considering how it remains a top pick time and time again for film production agencies looking to localize their work.
Landscape and Historical Diversity
The essence behind the fascination with Malta for filming lies within its diversity. A movie that exemplifies this to perfection is Steven Spielberg’s Munich (2005). For those of you who have seen this Hollywood blockbuster, you may remember that there were shots displaying as many as seven countries. This list features Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Spain, and the West Bank. In reality, all of those shots happened in Malta, with each respective location dressed to recreate the feel and ambience of the country intended. Scenes from other movies depicting many different countries are known to have been filmed in Malta as well.
Maltese film locations aren’t only diverse in a geographical sense but also in a historical one. Malta’s portfolio includes films set in a diverse range of historical periods all the way from the Classical era to ultra-modern flicks. Mainly, this comes from Malta’s extensive palette of architecturally rich sites representative of its long history of colonialism. Every single colonizer that took Malta under its wing left its imprint here. So, on one hand, we have naturally shaped features making up Maltese landscape such as alluring coastlines and craggy cliffs under a perennially azure sky. On the other, we also have man-made constructions testament to Maltese history such as fortified cities with baroque and medieval palaces, houses, churches, and imposing harbors that lie in stark contrast with quaint, little villages appearing to be frozen in time.
Taking a Leap Back in Time with These Titles
Historically-based film interpretations are among the most common types of films and TV series whose productions have graced Maltese land. Quite recently, the hit TV series Game of Thrones, adapted from George R.R. Martin’s novel series A Song of Ice and Fire, was partially filmed in Malta. Moving onto full-fledged movies, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000) and Wolfgang Peterson’s Troy (2004) made use of Maltese locations. Following Troy, Brad Pitt returned to Malta for another two movies later on – World War Z (2013) and By the Sea (2015). In Gladiator, scenes show ancient Roman backdrops and the Colosseum, while in Troy, shots depict the grand square and various streets. Both used Maltese backdrops dressed for the occasion. Malta also stood in for ancient Egypt’s Alexandria in the movie Agora (2009).
Valletta's Rich Cornucopia of Movie Sites
The Count of Monte Cristo (2002), directed by Kevin Reynolds and adapted from Dumas’ eponymous novel, picked quite a few sites in Malta to work with. Some of the locations most worth mentioning are Fort St. Elmo, Fort St. Angelo, the Grandmaster’s Palace, and the Grand Harbour. All of the above, except for Fort St. Angelo, are located in the capital city of Valletta. This city, built by the Knights of St. John on top of a hill and surrounded by bastions, is a favorite amongst filmmakers thanks to its overall grandiose Baroque style architecture. The second time Brad Pitt returned to Malta was in the contemporary piece World War Z. If you remember the chilling scene with zombies tumbling down long winding stairs, that was also shot in Valletta.
The James Bond movie universe has also used Maltese sites on two occasions – once in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), starring Roger Moore, and again in Never Say Never Again (1983) starring Sean Connery. On both occasions, squares and streets in Valletta were captured on film.
Other Picture-Perfect Movie Facilities
Not far from Valletta lies the aforementioned Fort St. Angelo. This can be seen from the walls of the Grand Harbour as it sits right across from Valletta, located in Birgu: perhaps the most beautiful of the Three Cities. Other Maltese forts that have made appearances include Fort Manoel and Fort Delimara, both of which can be seen in the movie adaptation of the video game Assassin’s Creed (2016). However, the fort that’s one of the favorite candidates amongst filmmakers is Fort Ricasoli, also visible from the Grand Harbour. In the 17th century, it served as a military compound, and now it’s been converted into a movie set with all the bells and whistles. Curated by the Malta Film Commission (MFC), it’s an area covering roughly 70,000 square feet, storing all sorts of props and features available for film productions. The set was originally built for the 2002 interpretation of Julius Caeser, and has been reused numerous times since.
Malta as a Middle Eastern Lookalike
A fair number of films whose stories are set in the Middle East have been shot in Malta. Maltese landscapes share a lot in common with their counterparts represented in said films. We’ve already listed a few that took this approach. A few others include: The Devil’s Double (2011), The Cut (2014), The Dovekeepers (2015), and The Eichmann Show (2015). Director Michael Bay, well known for his productions to be rich in effects, also took to Maltese shores when he directed 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016). One other factor that draws in directors and producers when being considered for its Middle Eastern similarities is the people. Many Maltese people’s olive-green complexion is one that is staple to many Mediterranean countries. When production houses are looking to recruit extras, they often turn to the locals.
Maltese Waters and Films
Maltese waters are no stranger to film productions either. In 2013, we saw the award-winning Captain Phillips bring Tom Hanks to Malta once again after he starred in The Da Vinci Code (2006), also partially filmed here. Then, more recently, Kenneth Branagh directed and starred alongside Penelope Cruz in his adaptation of Agatha Christie’s eponymous Murder on the Orient Express (2017).
When it comes to Maltese waters as a film backdrop, there’s one particular facility that many movies make use of – the Film Water Tanks. Curated by the Mediterranean Film Studios (MFS), this combination of three water tanks covers an area of about 90,000 square feet. Since the facility’s opening in 1964, it’s received several upgrades. The facility allows for filmmakers to create sound effects, construct crafts as well as film sets, and do scale-modeling. Some of the movies that brought their productions to this facility include U-571 (2000), Troy (2004), Kon-Tiki (2012), and the bespoke Captain Phillips. However, before these productions set foot on Maltese sands, Ridley Scott shot his White Squall (1996) using the Film Water Tanks. Due to his positive experience filming in Malta, he later returned to direct Gladiator.
Reliving the Best Movie Scenes in Real Life
After all, we’ve only provided a taster as to why Malta remains a popular choice with filmmakers. As mentioned earlier, there are too many titles and sites in Malta that have embraced productions to touch on all of them. However, if you’re a film enthusiast who’s visiting Malta after having seen any of the filmic visions that have come to life in Maltese locations, you can relive the magic of the scenes simply by visiting these sites, especially since quite a few of them are within walking distance from AUM!