Scarlett Johansson is suing Disney over the company’s decision to release her latest Marvel film, “Black Widow,” to its streaming platform and theaters simultaneously.
The actress’ lawsuit, filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court, claims the studio breached her contract because her compensation was based in part on box office revenue. By making the film available on the Disney+ platform, she says the company severely undercut her potential earnings. “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 complaint said.
Johansson also claims Marvel executives promised her that the movie would only receive a theatrical release. According to the suit:
“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. Johansson, Disney, Marvel, and most everyone else in Hollywood knows, a ‘theatrical release’ is a release that is exclusive to movie theatres. Disney was well aware of this promise, but nonetheless directed Marvel to violate its pledge and instead release the picture on the Disney+ streaming service the very same day it was released in movie theatres.”
Disney responded immediately, saying, there is “no merit whatsoever to this filing.” The company implied that Johansson’s complaint shows a lack of empathy on the actress’ part. “It is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the company said in a statement reported by The Wall Street Journal.
The Disney spokesperson continued. “Disney has fully complied with Ms. 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 suit comes at a time that studios are often facing off with creative talent who are unhappy with their decisions to release valuable properties on streaming platforms in a bid to attract new subscribers. Notably, high-profile directors like Christopher Nolan and stars like Denzel Washington were angry with Warner Bros. last year for its decision to release all of its films on HBO Max as well as theaters.
Johansson’s filing also notes that Disney Chairman Robert Iger and Chief Executive Bob Chapek’s annual bonuses are based on the performance of Disney+. She claims that this further motivated them to release “Black Widow” to streaming in order to maximize their own earnings while undercutting hers. “In short, the message to—and from— Disney’s top management was clear: increase Disney+ subscribers, never mind your contractual promises, and you will be rewarded,” the suit said.
As the Journal reports, “Disney disclosed in its 2021 proxy that Messrs. Iger and Chapek both received bonuses for the success of Disney+.”
“Black Widow” took in around $80 million stateside and $78 million internationally in its opening weekend. But the subsequent weekend broke box office records for the worst ticket sales collapse in Marvel history.
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