Jude Law and Ed Harris were cast largely on the expressiveness of their eyes. They were frequently called to convey emotion without saying a word.
In the large battle scenes it was deemed too dangerous with so many extras in a confined space to set off explosions by remote. Stuntmen were mixed in with the extras to set off the explosions by stepping on pressure plates.
The film depicts Zaitsev as a bit of an unschooled simpleton, from some backwater part of the country, but who knew how to shoot a rifle. In reality, Zaitsev was an educated man, and had worked for five years as an accountant in the Russian navy stationed in the Pacific before joining the army.
Major König, played by Ed Harris, can be seen wearing gloves with the index finger and thumb on its right hand removed. This was quite common for snipers in cold conditions as it helped prevent frostbite in the hand, while allowing them to make delicate changes to their weapon and ensuring a smooth trigger squeeze.
It is estimated that the Axis suffered 260,000 soldiers killed in action with 90,000 captured during the Battle of Stalingrad. The Soviet casualties were much more severe with an estimated 500,000 soldiers killed and probably at least as many civilians.
Having served for years in the Russian navy before being transferred to the army, Zaitsev was proud of his naval background and wore his blue and white striped navy issued shirt under his uniform during his time in Stalingrad.
The character of Ludmilla is a possible reference to another famous Soviet sniper, Lyudmila Pavlichenko, who had over 300 kills, even more than that of Vassili Zaitsev, who had around 257 kills.
At 54:10, one of the snipers burns his fingers on a field stove and quickly rubs them behind his ears. This is very realistic, as there is usually body oil accumulating there and it would ease blistering, and touching the earlobes after burning your fingers will help transfer some of the heat away thereby easing the pain.
The large set of Stalingrad had to be built from scratch in Germany. Set construction began in October 1999 and took nearly five months.
In the film Zaitsev and his comrades seem to be exploited by the communist leadership, seemingly being thrown into the horrors of war ignorant of what they were facing, viewed mostly as nothing more than cannon fodder. According to Zaitsev's own writings on the war, however, he and his comrades in the navy for a long time begged their superiors to transfer them to the army so that they could fight at Stalingrad, knowing full well what they were volunteering for.
Outside of Zaitsev's own accounts of the war, there is no evidence for the existence of Major Konig.
Most of the characters in the film are based on real people. Nikita Khrushchev was indeed a political commissar in the Red Army who popularized and promoted sniper Zaitsev.
It took a team of 300 nearly five months to create all the prosthetic corpses seen in the film.
While much is said of Stalingrad being of symbolic value for Hitler, it was a transit hub for oil deliveries for the Soviets, who got their oil from Chechnya and Azerbaijan at the time. The whole southern focus of the Axis campaign on the Eastern Front was to capture the Caucasus oilfields.
In the scene in the printing press when the characters of Vassili and Danilov have an argument, the tears in Jude Law's eyes are genuine.
Originally the story was a long-cherished project of Sergei Eisenstein. The Battle of Stalingrad was also a project that Sergio Leone was set to make but the project fell through.
"Enemy at the Gate" was the call for resistance in 1941 when the Nazis besieged Stalingrad (now Volgograd). Stalingrad resistance stopped the Nazis, and the words "Enemy at the Gate" became a call for anti-Nazi resistance everywhere. Same words are used in the book "Enemy at the Gate: The Battle for Stalingrad" (1973) by William Craig, which also documents the real-life war exploits of Vasilli Zaitsev. On the bluray copy, there are several featurettes about the making of this film. In one of them, director Annaud said there are (only) 3 pages in the entire book devoted to the sniper battle between Zaitsev and the German sniper.
The wreckage of a German aircraft outside the department store scene is a Siebel Si204, a light military transport built in small numbers. It is consistent with the period and the markings are authentic for the Russian Front. It was built in France and Czechoslovakia, as well as Germany, and many were operated by both civilian and military air fleets until the 1970s. It is clearly a mock up, however, and the tailplane is wrong: it is a single tailplane and the 204 had a twin tail.
The film was poorly received at Berlin festival. The German-Russian writer Wladimir Kaminer who played an extra in the film, criticizes how the Soviet soldiers are portrayed in the film.
The locomotive used for filming the troop train scene is, ironically, a German-built "Kriegslok" ("war locomotive"). About 2700 were captured by the Soviets but not used by the Soviet Railways until after the war (see Goofs).
Some Red Army Stalingrad veterans were so offended by inaccuracies in the film and how the Red Army was portrayed that on May 7, 2001, shortly after the film premiered in Russia, they expressed their displeasure in the Duma, demanding a ban of the film, but their request was not granted.
From a strategic point of view the Battle of Stalingrad was of much less importance than the Second Battle of El Alamein. The Allied victory at El Alamein won the North African Campaign, won the Battle of the Mediterranean, ended the Siege of Malta, prevented the Axis from invading Egypt, saved the Suez Canal, secured the Middle East with its vast oil reserves, and made possible the invasions of Sicily, Italy and southern France.
Seven years after the release of Enemy at the Gates, Ron Perlman (Koulikov) narrated the audio version of David Benioff's City of Thieves. Both show WWII urban warfare from the Russian perspective, and the central personal relationship is among two male comrades and a female sniper.
The wheeled machine gun used to shoot the retreating Russians is a British Vickers gun modified to resemble a Russian PM M1910. Both were based on the Maxim gun developed in the 1880s.
One of the trailers made for the movie used several musical themes from Nixon (1995). Ed Harris and Bob Hoskins star in both movies.
Originally slated for release in late December, Paramount shunted it back to the following spring.