Disney’s decision to release “Black Widow” on Disney Plus at the same time it hit theaters has sparked a legal battle with Scarlett Johansson, the actress tasked with playing the Marvel superhero.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court, attorneys for Johansson allege that the star’s contract was breached when the studio opted not to debut the film exclusively in theaters, a move they claim depressed ticket sales for the Avengers spinoff. Much of Johansson’s compensation was tied to the box office performance of “Black Widow” — if it hit certain benchmarks, bonuses would kick in.
“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 reads.
Disney announced in March that “Black Widow,” among several of its 2021 films, would premiere simultaneously on the studio’s subscription-based streaming service, for a premium $30 price, and on the big screen as the movie theater industry rebounded from COVID-19. On July 9, “Black Widow” set to pandemic-era box office record with its $80 million in North America and earned an additional $78 million overseas and $60 million on Disney Plus. Ticket sales steeply declined in subsequent weeks and currently stand at $319 million globally, putting “Black Widow” on track to become one of the lowest-grossing Marvel movies of all time.
Shortly after its debut, the National Association of Theatre Owners, the industry’s main trade organization, asserted the simultaneous release of “Black Widow” in theaters and on streaming “costs Disney money in revenue per viewer over the life of the film.”
However, the suit notes that Disney’s stock rose after the company disclosed the rental figures.
“Disney chose to placate Wall Street investors and pad its bottom line, rather than allow its subsidiary Marvel to comply with the agreement,” the suit reads. ” To no one’s surprise, Disney’s breach of the Agreement successfully pulled millions of fans away from the theatres and toward its Disney+ streaming service.”
The Wall Street Journal, which broke the news of the lawsuit, reports that sources close to Johansson estimate that the decision to release the film concurrently on Disney Plus resulted in $50 million in lost bonuses.
(Excerpt) Read more in: Variety