As Ridley Scott’s biopic garners Oscars buzz, there are hopes that its Maltese filming locations will be a boon for the country’s tourism industry. Here are the blockbuster sights you can see in the islands known as the “Mediterranean’s mini-Hollywood”.
Starring Joaquin Phoenix as the emperor and Vanessa Kirby as his wife Josephine, Napoleon follows the rise to power and fall from grace of the legendary figure. The film opened in cinemas 22 November 2023, and with a director’s cut heading for Apple TV+ next year, it’s unlikely the hype will die down any time soon.
Visitors looking to witness the real-life locations behind the blockbuster can explore three of the filming sites in Malta. In one climatic battle scene, Napoleon seizes the French port of Toulon and establishes his reputation for military might. Scott filmed these scenes at the 17th-century Fort Ricasoli, in the southeastern village of Kalkara. The fort, which is the largest in Europe, is a mini-Hollywood of its own: it was blown to smithereens as Game of Throne’s Red Keep and stood in for ancient Rome in Gladiator. Indeed, Scott is set to return to Ricasoli to film the sequel to his 2000 Oscar-winner. A six-mile drive from Malta International airport, the fort is a highlight of many Valletta harbour tours.
A 75-minute bus journey from Kalkara is Golden Bay, the site of Napoleon’s naval scenes. A Blue Flag beach on the northwestern coastal village of Manikata, Golden Bay is home to a five-star Radisson Blu hotel and lies just outside the village of Mellieha.
Drive 12 minutes to Mdina and cinephile holidaymakers will find St Paul’s Cathedral, where Kirby’s Josephine emerges from prison before she meets the emperor. Designed by Lorenzo Gafa on the ruins of a 4th-century church, this ancient site is the subject of walking tours and guided visits, with tickets costing €10 for an adult.
Emilia Berni, head of marketing at Olympic Holidays, highlighted the importance of film locations when selling destinations: “Enquiries and bookings to certain places certainly spike due to the exposure an island or destination receives on the back of a Hollywood blockbuster.
“There’s not only huge appeal for being able to stand, sleep and dine where the stars have, but these films also have the capability to capture the beauty and the full glory of a destination in a way only big budgets can,” she continued.
Malta has a long tradition of film tourism. Steven Spielberg, Guy Richie, Russell Crow, Brad Pitt and Madonna have all created blockbusters in the islands. The Malta Film Studios, one of the world’s largest production facilities, has been home to 200 feature films, television movies, documentaries and commercials over its 58-year history.
Peter Green, trade trainer at Visit Malta, summarised how Malta, and many other destinations, benefit from film tourism: “Research continues to show that travellers want to visit the sites of their favourite films and TV shows, from White Lotus’s Sicily to Game of Thrones’ Dubrovnik and Northern Ireland.”
Indeed, the global film tourism industry was worth $68.1 billion in 2022, a share predicted to rise to $110.8 billion by 2028, according to a study by Credence Research.