The Zone of the film was inspired by a nuclear accident that took place near Chelyabinsk in 1957. Several hundred square kilometers were polluted by fallout and abandoned. There was no official mention of this "forbidden zone" at the time.
The film was initially shot on Kodak 5247 stock. This film stock was newer to Soviet laboratories of the time, and some of the original negatives were destroyed by a processing error at the laboratory. Part of the film had to be shot again with a new cinematographer, Aleksandr Knyazhinskiy. This contributed to the film's two-part narrative structure. Allegedly, the newly shot footage strayed farther away from the source novel Roadside Picnic, and had a different look. Asked about this, director Andrei Tarkovsky said "no mother gives birth to the same child twice".
This film inspired video game developer GSC Game World to create STALKER:Shadow of Chernobyl. The game puts players into the role of a stalker who must navigate The Zone looking for answers to his amnesia.
Officials at Goskino, a government group otherwise known as the State Committee for Cinematography, were critical of the film. Of their criticism Tarkovsky supposedly retorted: "I am only interested in the views of two people: one is called Bresson and one called Bergman."
Many movie experts and fans have theorized that the movie is based on The Wizard of Oz (1939), since both switch from sepia tones to full color as soon as the mythical place (Oz and the Zone) is reached. Both films also feature a destination where wishes may be granted. Director Andrei Tarkovsky has never spoken out about these similarities. About the nature of the Zone, he said in 1979 that "the viewer may doubt the existence of the Zone, regard it as myth or a joke... or even as something made up by our hero".
For the central part of the film, in which the characters travel within the Zone, director Andrei Tarkovsky initially wanted to shoot in the environment around an old Chinese mine. However, when the mine was destroyed by an earthquake shortly before filming, the production moved to two deserted hydro power plants on the Jägala river near Tallinn, Estonia.
Loosely based on the novel 'Piknik na obochine' (Roadside Picnic) by Russian writers (and brothers) Arkadiy Strugatskiy and Boris Strugatskiy. Although the novelists also received credit for the screenplay, the book was actually adapted by director Andrei Tarkovsky, who remained uncredited for the script. Tarkovsky himself claimed that the words "Stalker" and "Zone" were the only two things the book and film had in common.
According to an interview Estonian director Arvo Iho gave to The Economic Times, he helped find Tarkovsky filming locations in Estonia and shot pictures of the shooting of the movie for an exhibition called 'Shooting of Stalker'.