Scarlett Johansson is suing the Walt Disney Company over its streaming release of Black Widow, which she says breached her contract and deprived her of potential earnings.
- Scarlett Johansson is suing Disney for releasing Black Widow on streaming and in cinemas at the same time
- The Marvel star claims her agreement with the company guaranteed an exclusive theatrical release
- Johansson’s earnings were based partly on the film’s box office performance
In a lawsuit filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court, the Black Widow star and executive producer said her contract guaranteed an exclusive theatrical release.
Johansson’s potential earnings were tied to the box office performance of the film, which the company released simultaneously in cinemas and on its streaming service Disney+ for a $US30 ($40) rental.
Johansson’s lawsuit claims Disney wanted to steer audiences toward Disney+ “where it could keep the revenues for itself while simultaneously growing the Disney+ subscriber base, a proven way to boost Disney’s stock price.”
Disney have hit back, saying they complied with Johansson’s contract and that the lawsuit has “no merit whatsoever”.
“The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Disney said in a statement.
It added that the release of the movie on its streaming platform had “significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation” on top of the $US20 million she had already received.
After its release was delayed for more than a year because of COVID-19, Black Widow debuted to a pandemic-best of $US80 million in North America and $US78 million from international theatres three weeks ago, but theatrical grosses declined sharply after that.
The movie also generated $US60 million through Disney+ purchases, Disney said.
In its second weekend in release, the National Association of Theater Owners issued a rare statement criticising the strategy, saying simultaneous release led to lost profits and piracy.
Once taboo, hybrid theatrical and streaming releases have become more normal for many of the biggest studios during the pandemic, with each adopting its own unique strategy.
This weekend, Disney is employing the same strategy with Jungle Cruise, and next weekend the big budget The Suicide Squad opens both in theatres and on HBO Max for Warner Bros.
The revised hybrid release strategies have occasionally led to public spats, with theatre owners, stars, filmmakers and financiers unhappy with the potential lost revenues and the alleged unilateral decision-making involved.
The Wall Street Journal said Warner Media, for instance, paid over $US200 million in “amended agreements” with talent over its decision to release its entire 2021 slate simultaneously in theatres and on HBO Max.
Johansson has been in nine Marvel movies, going back to 2010’s Iron Man 2.