Scarlett Johansson filed a lawsuit on Thursday in Los Angeles against Disney, in which she alleged that the media company breached her contract by releasing the film day and date in theaters and on the Disney+ streaming service. According to the lawsuit (as reported by The Washington Post), her agreement with Disney-owned Marvel Entertainment guaranteed a theatrical release, with her salary based largely on how the movie did at the box office.
“Disney intentionally induced Marvel’s breach of the agreement, without justification, in order to prevent Ms. Johansson from realizing the full benefit of her bargain with Marvel,” the suit states.
IndieWire has reached out to Disney representatives for comment.
“Black Widow,” which has grossed more than $318 million worldwide since opening in theaters and on Disney+ on July 9, took one of the worst box-office drops in Marvel Cinematic Universe history between its first and second weekends. The National Association of Theater Owners blamed the film’s availability on Disney+, where consumers could rent the film at the Premium tier for $29.99, in an excoriating letter after “Black Widow” plummeted 67 percent in its second weekend.
As studios continue to prioritize streaming over theatrical exhibition, the lawsuit could portend changes in the industry. Back in May, Emily Blunt and John Krasinski sought financial compensation from Paramount Pictures when it was announced “A Quiet Place Part II” would drop on Paramount Plus 45 days after the film’s theatrical release.
Per the complaint, Johansson’s representatives wanted to renegotiate the terms of her contract upon learning of the day-and-date release strategy for “Black Widow,” her ninth (and final) appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. According to the suit, Disney and Marvel did not respond.
Reportedly, the move to put the film on Disney+ is expected to cost Johansson over $50 million, the Washington Post story claims. The story also reports that Johansson reached out to Marvel well ahead of the pandemic in 2019 for reassurance that “Black Widow” would go directly to theaters only.
The suit includes an email from Marvel Chief Counsel Dave Galluzzi from March 2019, who promised a traditional theatrical release model. “We understand that should the plan change, we would need to discuss this with you and come to an understanding as the deal is based on a series of (very large) box office bonuses,” the email states.
In a statement, Johansson’s attorney 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. This will surely not be the last case where Hollywood talent stands up to Disney and makes it clear that, whatever the company may pretend, it has a legal obligation to honor its contracts.”
Though “Black Widow” grossed $80 million domestic and $78 million overseas on its opening, post-Fourth of July weekend, the film also took in $60 million from premium streaming on Disney+.
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