It's the romantic comedy that helped propel Julia Roberts and Richard Gere to super-stardom and made viewers everywhere believe in fairy tale endings.

But Pretty Woman could have been a much darker tale, according to former Disney studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg, talking at a Hearst Tower Q&A in New York, the Daily Mail reports.

Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in the 1990 film Pretty Woman.
Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in the 1990 film Pretty Woman.

"As a script, Pretty Woman was an R-rated movie about a hooker on Hollywood Boulevard," Page Six reported.

"By the way, in the original version - it's pretty dark - I think she died of an overdose.

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"So convincing [people] that we should make that at the Walt Disney Co., and that it's a fairy tale and a princess movie, a lot of people had a hard time seeing it.

"But, as they say, the rest is history."

Starring Richard Gere as a wealthy businessman and Julia Roberts as a hooker who fall in love against all the odds, it was released in 1990.

It became a huge hit, making US$463 million worldwide at the time and countless more money since, a healthy return on its reported US$14 million budget.

Julia Roberts in the 1990 film Pretty Woman.
Julia Roberts in the 1990 film Pretty Woman.

The 66-year-old movie mogul, who co-founded DreamWorks in 1994, is now launching a new digital media and technology investment firm, WndrCo.

Meanwhile, Katzenberg said he really enjoyed last weekend's Oscars - including its controversial ending when the wrong envelope was given to Best Film presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.

Faye announced that La La Land had won rather than Moonlight, sparking a melee on stage when the mistake was revealed.

"That's the excitement and challenge of going on the high wire," Jeffrey said of live TV.

"I would say as troubling as it must have been in the moment ... I don't think there's been an [Oscars] as talked about the morning after for a decade."