Scarlett Johansson, actress of Marvel Cinematic Universe’s ‘Black Widow,’ filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Thursday, alleging Disney violated her contract by releasing the highly anticipated superhero film “Black Widow” on streaming in Disney+.
In the suit, the star claims that the film was released simultaneously on the service and in theaters, violating the contract between them. Additionally, the lawsuit claims Johansson agreed that her salary for the film would be determined mainly by the film’s box office earnings.
According to the lawsuit, “To maximize these receipts and thereby protect her financial interests, Ms. Johansson extracted a promise from Marvel that the release of the picture would be a theatrical release.
“As Ms. [Scareltt] Johansson, Disney, Marvel, and most everyone else in Hollywood knows, a ‘theatrical release’ is a release that is exclusive to movie theatres,” the suit explains.
“Disney was well aware of this promise, but nonetheless directed Marvel to violate its pledge,” continuing, “and instead release the picture on the Disney+ streaming service the very same day it was released in movie theatres.”
As a response to the lawsuit, Disney stated that “There is no merit whatsoever to this filing. Especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard — for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The spokesperson to Disney explained, “Disney has fully complied with Ms.[Scarlett] Johansson’s contract and furthermore, the release of ‘Black Widow’ on Disney+ with Premier Access has significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20 million she has received to date.”
The lawsuit comes at a particularly crucial time for Hollywood since the pandemic has accelerated several different trends at the same time. Movie theaters and the box office have struggled to return to normal after a pandemic hit their business. Now, streaming online has become the focal point for Hollywood.
Earlier this year, Disney made big waves by announcing that “Black Widow” would be available for an additional cost on Disney+ and in theaters at the same time. Unfortunately, as a consequence of the pandemic, the film was delayed multiple times. Originally, it was scheduled to be released in May of 2020.
Marvel, the biggest blockbuster brand in Hollywood, has brought in over $23 billion at the global box office since 2008. So the “Black Widow” news stands out even though other studios similarly have a same-day theatrical and streaming release strategy.
Disney enjoyed immediate success with the film when it was released on July 9, generating $80 million in its North American theater release and $60 million worldwide on Disney+.
Apparently, the film’s performance has slowed down since and has currently accumulated about $318 million worldwide. That’s not a massive take for a Marvel film.
Scarlett’s lawyer John Berlinski said,
“It’s no secret that Disney is releasing films like Black Widow directly onto Disney+ to increase subscribers and thereby boost the company’s stock price — and that it’s hiding behind Covid-19 as a pretext to do so. But ignoring the contracts of the artists responsible for the success of its films in furtherance of this short-sighted strategy violates their rights, and we look forward to proving as much in court.”
According to her lawyer, it will “surely not be the last case where Hollywood talent stands up to Disney,” he added, “and makes it clear that, whatever the company may pretend, it has a legal obligation to honor its contracts.”