How a gorgeous old movie set in Malta became a tourist destination where couples get married

Popeye 1 finalPopeye VillagePopeye Village.

In 1980, Paramount released the live-action feature film version of “Popeye,” directed by Robert Altman.

Starring Robin Williams as the comic character in his first film role, the movie/musical was a critical and box-office disaster, making just $49 million

But the unique set of the town of Sweethaven that was built from scratch for the film in Anchor Bay, the northwest corner of the Mediterranean island of Malta, was a highlight. Created by production designer Wolf Kroeger, its slanted, ramshackle structures made it look like it was pulled right from the comics.

After production wrapped, the set was never demolished, and following some refurbishing, the “town” was turned into a tourist attraction called Popeye Village, which is still open to this day.

Business Insider talked to Kroeger about building the set, and we look at how decades later, the location has become one of the top destinations on the Maltese Islands for family vacations and weddings.

Construction of the village happened in June 1979 and took seven months to complete. 'There were a few little fishing houses there, that was it,' Kroeger told BI of what stood when the crew showed up.

Popeye Village

'We had to bring in materials from outside (Malta),' he said. Lumber came from the Netherlands and shingles for the roofs came from Canada.


Though the film was a bust, Kroeger said the people of Malta loved the set and it was decided that it would not be torn down.


The bland look of the village -- intentional for the movie, Kroeger points out, as Altman wanted the colourful costumes to pop -- got a makeover.


And with some paint, Popeye Village was open for business.

Very little of the village has changed since its time as a film set. Here's how it looks today.

Popeye Village

Here's how it looked during filming. Outside of the houses looking less colourful, the only standout is the sunken ship. Kroeger said that was taken away after filming. In fact, he said it was still seaworthy after being sunk, some of the film crew sailed it around the coast.


The detail Kroeger and his team of about 165 put in is still evident to this day, from the cartoonish bent roofs to the crooked siding.

But obviously they did a great job for the houses to still be up 36 years later.

And some set decorations stayed around, too. Like in Popeye's room from the movie.

And here's the mailbox in front of Olive Oyl's house, where a lot of action happens in the movie.

And when you're there you might even run into Olive.

Popeye and Bluto are there, too (they seem to have made up).

Popeye Village

As you can imagine, Popeye Village is very kid-friendly.

Popeye Village

But you also can't beat the incredible location.

That's why Popeye Village has become a destination for weddings as well.

Popeye Village

If you're a Popeye fan could there be any better forever moment?

Popeye Village

Kroeger is shocked by the second life his set now has.

'It's a bigger success now as a tourist attraction than a movie,' he said.

A few years ago, Kroeger took his kids to Popeye Village. Though he was caught off-guard a little by the colours on the houses, he could still appreciate it.

Popeye Village

'I've built sets all over the world and this is the only one that's never been knocked down,' he said. 'The place amazes me.'

Popeye Village

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