Scarlett Johansson, the star of Marvel’s latest superhero film Black Widow, has filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Thursday, alleging that Disney breached her contract by releasing the movie on Disney+.
Last July 9th, Black Widow was simultaneously released in the US on the Disney-owned streaming service and in theaters, which the suit claims broke an agreement between Johannson and the entertainment giant.
According to the suit, Johansson agreed that her salary for the movie would be largely based on the film’s box-office earnings. But since the flick arrived on Disney+ on the same day it hit theaters, its ticket sales earnings are believed to have been affected significantly.
“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,’” the suit claims. “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.”
In response to the suit, Disney said that “there is no merit whatsoever” to Johansson’s filing, which the company called “especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
A rep for Disney reiterated that the firm “has fully complied with Ms. Johansson’s contract” before pointing out that the release of Black Widow on Disney+ has, in fact, “significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20 million she has received to date.”
But regardless of how much money Johansson has already earned from the movie, her attorney John Berlinski strongly believes there’s a breach of contract and Disney should face the consequences that come out of it.
“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,” Berlinski told CNN Business. “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.”
Berlinski added that Johansson’s lawsuit against Disney 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.”
Originally set to be released in May of 2020, Black Widow had been delayed multiple times because of the pandemic. Last March, Disney made the big decision to release it simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access for $30. Since some fans opted to watch the film on Disney+ instead of seeing it in on the big screen, Black Widow ticket sales aren’t as big as those of recent Marvel films that were released before the pandemic.
As of July 28th, Black Widow has grossed $159.4 million in North America and $160 million in international markets, for a worldwide total of $319.5 million.