Scarlett Johansson plays Natasha Romanoff, AKA Black Widow, in Marvel’s “Black Widow”.
Disney | wonder
Scarlett Johansson is suing Walt Disney.
The Marvel star filed a lawsuit in the Los Angeles Superior Court on Thursday alleging her contract was breached when the company released “Black Widow” on its streaming service Disney + while it was debuting in theaters.
Johansson claims her agreement with Disney’s Marvel Entertainment guaranteed an exclusive theatrical release for her solo film, and her salary was largely based on box office performance.
The Wall Street Journal was the first to report on the news.
“It is no secret that Disney is releasing films like ‘Black Widow’ directly on Disney + in order to increase the number of subscribers and thus boost the company’s share price – and that it is hiding behind Covid-19 as a pretext for this,” says John Berlinski, Kasowitz Benson Torres attorney, who represents Johansson, told CNBC.
“But ignoring the contracts of the artists responsible for the success of their films to promote this short-sighted strategy violates their rights and we look forward to proving it in court,” he said via email. “This will certainly not be the last time Hollywood talents stand up against Disney and make it clear that whatever the company claims, the company is legally bound to honor its contracts.”
According to the filing, Johansson’s representatives had asked for assurances back in 2019 as Disney + prepared for launch and Disney executives suggested that Marvel Cinematic Universe content would only be available through the service.
The lawsuit includes a response from Marvel’s chief attorney who confirmed that “Black Widow” would be released like other MCU films.
“We understand that if the plan changes, we need to discuss this with you and come to an agreement as the deal is based on a number of (very large) cash bonuses,” the response said.
When Johansson heard that “Black Widow” would be streaming and in theaters the same day, she tried to negotiate with Marvel. Disney and Marvel did not respond, the lawsuit said.
“This filing has no merit,” Disney said in a statement Thursday. “The lawsuit is particularly sad and troubling as it disregards the dire and ongoing global impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Disney has fully complied with Ms. Johansson’s contract and, moreover, the release of Black Widow on Disney + with Premier Access has “greatly improved her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $ 20 [million] she has received to this day. “
Similar contract issues emerged last year when studios changed their release strategies during the pandemic.
Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins reportedly received $ 10 million each after Warner Bros. decided to release “Wonder Woman 1984” in theaters and on HBO Max in December. Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake were also rumored to have been looking for bonuses after Universal’s “Trolls World Tour” was released on video-on-demand instead of in theaters in early 2020.
Disney has long held back from releasing big titles like “Black Widow” after the pandemic decimated the cinema industry. Theaters around the world have been temporarily closed to prevent the spread of Covid-19. But when coronavirus restrictions were eased, vaccination rates rose, and the industry recovered, Disney decided to launch new blockbusters in theaters and through Disney + at the same time for $ 30.
Disney said this hybrid release model is a temporary pandemic solution and plans to release the rest of its slate exclusively in theaters in late summer and early fall in 2021 after Friday’s jungle cruise.
Johansson, who has become an integral part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, negotiated her contract to include a percentage of Black Widow’s gross cinema sales. Before the pandemic, the film should secure a hefty sum at the box office.
However, the coronavirus pandemic has dampened ticket sales as cases continue to rise and the movie’s additional availability in the home video market meant it grossed just $ 80 million on the opening weekend. While this number pales in comparison to other Marvel features, it remains the tallest opening figure of any movie released after March 2020.
Domestically, the film grossed just over $ 150 million in theaters in its first three weeks. Disney reported that “Black Widow” made $ 60 million in sales on Disney + on the opening weekend, but has not released any additional information about its digital performance.
Previous Marvel films averaged more than $ 100 million in ticket sales on their opening weekends and nearly $ 1 billion during their theatrical runs.
“Black Widow” may have fallen on the lower end of that spectrum as the film takes place in the middle of the MCU timeline, but in a non-pandemic era it would certainly have been comparable to its peers.
Notably, only eight of Marvel’s 24 theatrical releases have grossed less than $ 700 million at the global box office. And only three have secured less than $ 400 million.
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal is the distributor of “Trolls World Tour”.