Weekend Getaways

Malta Village Used as Backdrop for 1980 Popeye Film is Now a Tourist Attraction

In 1980, acclaimed film director Robert Altman directed a live-action version of the beloved children’s cartoon and comic strip character, Popeye. The film starred the late Robin Williams in the title role and Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl. To say that the film bombed would be an understatement. Yet, Popeye does maintain a dedicated film-cult following. (Yes, we really did like it and still remember seeing it during its original run in theaters as a child.)

The village

Altman converted a small fishing village called Anchor Bay in the country of Malta into, “Sweethaven,” the fictional town where Popeye’s adventures are set. The Popeye movie set was designed by a renowned film set designer Wolf Kroeger and took almost 8 months to build by hand. (This was the era before computer-generated special effects became industry ubiquitous.) The converted village set was painted extremely drab, dull and dreary colors as a backdrop contrast to the overtly colorful costumes that the actors wore while filming.

What’s so special about  the film set

There was no actual film, “set,” per se. Anchor Bay was a real village. A lot of real village facades were built and constructed for the sake of filming. For example, real houses, rooms, piers and set pieces were built to add to the illusion of Anchor Bay, Malta doubling as the fictional town of Sweethaven. The remodeled town became the de facto movie set.After filming of the movie Popeye was completed, nothing was thrown away or torn down. After all, Anchor Bay was a real town with real people living in it. Anchor Bay couldn't be torn down or disassembled.

The village now

After the filmmakers left, the populace of Anchor Bay decided to benefit from the experience as much as possible. The people of Anchor Bay, Malta repainted the town with much more cheerful, tourist-friendly colors. However, beyond the colorful paint job, the converted village/movie set still looks the same as it did in 1980. No longer known as Anchor Bay or Sweethaven, this Malta seaside village is now simply known as, “Popeye Village.” So if you want to peruse the living and still thriving monument to a failed movie adaptation, then head to Popeye Village on the Mediterranean island country of Malta.


(All photographs are courtesy of the original owners unless otherwise indicated)

Subscribe Newsletters