Fans of theme parks rave about attractions and theme park lands that truly immerse Guests into their favorite movie or intellectual property. Contemporary examples of this are the World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, Toy Story Land, and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
As immersive and detailed as these theme park lands are, they still are at best facades screening large show boxes. What if there were a place you can visit that quite literally placed you in the middle of a fully, three dimensional movie set.
This little known place actually exists. It is Popeye Village, also known as Sweethaven Village, situated near the actual village of Millieha in Malta.
Popeye Village is the actual movie set used by Paramount Pictures and Walt Disney Productions for Robert Altman’s film “Popeye,” shot in Malta. It is the only film set from that movie still in existence within Europe.
The movie Popeye, staring Robin Williams as the lead character and Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl, is a 1980s live-action musical which failed to be successful at the box office. Forty years later – preserved to all of its original glory – visitors and die hard fans of the Popeye the Sailor cartoons can visit this immersive, open air museum.
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The fictional village of Sweethaven started construction in June 1979 and lasted for approximately seven months. To protect the movie set from high waves crashing into the coastline, a tidal breakwater was built in Anchor Bay – around which the village is situated. Over 160 construction workers from various countries worked to build the village consisting of nineteen, colorful cottage sized houses. The filming commenced on January 23, 1980, and wrapped on June 19, 1980.
Sweethaven’s rustic, intentionally mis-shaped seaside-styled structures were constructed with imported wooden siding and roof materials utilizing nearly two thousand gallons of paint aged and weathered to give the village the appearance of being inhabited for decades.
To this day, the interiors of the houses and structures display movie props seen in the feature film. Identifiable buildings that made the final cut in the movie are Olive Oyl’s house, Popeye’s cabin, the firehouse, the dentist’s office, the post office and many more.
Visitors can also come to the village to meet world famous cartoon figures. Characters from the movie, such as Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto, and Wimpy are interacting with visitors around the village throughout the day. The unique and rare feature about the Popeye Movie Village is the fact it still exists since typically after a large movie production, in-situ sets of this nature are often demolished only to be preserved on film.
Outside the structures, there are numerous props from the movie scattered throughout the village. Scenically aged boats, fishing gear, aged crates, etc. adorn the streets of the village. The village now contains a 40-seat theater that plays clips from the movie and behind-the-scenes footage showcasing the construction of the village’s sets.
In an effort to preserve the village, that was essentially left in place by the movie studios after the movie flopped at the box office, local entrepreneurs in the nearby town of Millieha understood the potential of having a fully realized village iconically perched at the edge of the coastline. Visionary locals turned the village into a tourist attraction reported to be the most popular tourist attraction in Malta.
True to form, as seen in theme parks, actors dressed as characters from the movie can be found wandering around the attraction. Popeye Village, referred to by the locals as Sweethaven, has become a popular venue in Malta used for private parties, weddings, and corporate events when it’s not being utilized on a daily basis as the open air museum.
For fans of uniquely themed attractions, Popeye Village is a one of a kind opportunity to visit and wander around a purpose-built, in-tact movie set, making this one of the top themed travel destinations we can recommend!