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Pretty Woman’s Original Story Was Incredibly Dark

Despite some dark undertones, Pretty Woman is a famously sweet and tender ’90s rom-com. But its original story was actually much, much bleaker.

1990’s Pretty Woman is widely regarded as one of the quintessential rom-coms of the last three decades, but the original storyline for the film was vastly darker than the one that made the cut. Acting legends Julia Roberts and Richard Gere famously star together in the movie with charming chemistry that almost lifts the screen – delivering iconic lines like “big mistake” and the one about how she rescues her metaphorical knight “right back.” Part of the film’s appeal is its earnest sweetness and lighthearted fun, but that wasn’t always the plot version in mind.

Pretty Woman follows Roberts’ Vivian Ward, a Hollywood escort who, up until the movie’s timeline, is sure to never let emotion find its way into her occupation’s equation. Of course, that’s where Gere’s character of Edward Lewis – a wealthy and successful businessman – comes into play. He’s visiting the city on business, where the two main characters meet and fall into deep, unplanned love. It’s a classic sort of tale where two lovers from starkly different worlds can’t deny the magnetism between them.

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Interestingly, the original storyline was crafted with a very different tone. In a 2015 Vanity Fair article, Pretty Woman’s screenwriter, J.F. Lawton, explained his original vision for the film, writing that the first screenplay for the film, which was initially entitled 3,000, in the late 1980s. Citing inspiration drawn from movies like Oliver Stone’s acclaimed, business-focused drama Wall Street, Lawton was interested in writing about the increasingly hot topic of “financiers who were destroying companies” at the time. The original meaning behind the way viewers would watch Pretty Woman’s main characters collide was originally intended to be more of a commentary on America’s wealth gap and a reckoning for what many would perceive as wrongdoing than a “from two different worlds” kind of whirlwind romance. Lawton said he “thought about the idea that one of these people [financiers] would meet somebody who was affected by what they were doing.” Not only that, but, in recent years, Roberts herself has also elaborated on a much darker original ending to Pretty Woman. Clearly, a much bleaker and more cautionary tale of greed and sex work was initially in the cards.


Edward and Vivian on the street in Pretty Woman

Things could’ve been far different than the romantic tale that ended up hitting the big screen – which, of course, was clearly the better option. To this day, the final form of Pretty Woman is Disney’s best rom-com – and it’s still widely loved by fans of the genre and the lead actors involved. But the inherently dark tone of what was originally 3,000 also could’ve been greatly reinforced by the film’s cast, as well – had things gone in that direction.

In the aforementioned Vanity Fair article, Lawton also said that other famous actors – like Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer – had auditioned for the movie’s leading roles. He said “it [Pretty Woman] would definitely have been a different movie” if they had ended up portraying Vivian and Edward. He even said, “It might have been closer to the original script and maybe not have had a happy ending. But the chemistry between Julia and Gere, it is palpable on the screen, it was palpable in auditions.


Obviously, Lawton’s original story received rewrites. And, according to the article, he was even “thrilled” with the screenplay’s revamping. On that note, it’s always positive to know there isn’t any bad blood back from the days when Pretty Woman was first crafted. Though money, business, and background/social class are undeniably important components of this Julia Roberts and Richard Gere-led story, it’s hard to picture a version of the film where greed and cutthroat capitalism are the real driving forces behind its plot. Art can and should be used to expose and depict some of life’s harsher truths, but Pretty Woman definitely didn’t need to be one of those pieces.


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