Scarlett Johansson has spent nearly a decade in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the Black Widow, culminating in her long-awaited solo movie that was finally released earlier this month after multiple covid-19-induced delays. Now, the actor has announced she’s suing the Walt Disney Company — for a breach of contract related to the movie’s day-and-date debut on Disney+.
As the Wall Street Journal reports, Johansson’s lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles’ Superior Court today, alleges that Disney refused to re-negotiate part of her contract with Marvel Studios to accommodate the fact that Black Widow, due to theatrical restrictions brought about by covid-19, debuted simultaneously in theatres and as part of the streamer’s Disney+ “Premiere Access” program on July 9. According to the suit, this breached an agreement she had with Marvel that Black Widow would have an exclusive theatrical debut.
Johansson’s contract for the film also tied her salary into the film’s box office performance, a common stipulation for talent in major blockbusters beyond their usual payment. Because of Black Widow’s simultaneous streaming debut, the film’s box office performance was heavily blunted, leading to a week-on-week drop from its $US80 million domestic theatrical box office debut to just $US26.3 million in the film’s second week — which also lead to theatre owner associations blasting Disney. A source familiar with the contract speaking to WSJ claimed Johansson stands to lose roughly $US50 ($68) million from the move, while Disney itself touted that Black Widow made around $US60 ($81) million in initial streams, from the $35 buy-in required for Disney+’s “Premiere Access” titles, which have previously included Raya and the Last Dragon, Cruella, and Mulan.
Compounding the issues Johansson has with Disney’s conduct is that her suit further alleges that the company wouldn’t re-negotiate her deal after the studio finally decided to move Black Widow to a simultaneous theatrical and streaming release — a decision made after months of stalling in March this year. While other studios who moved to streaming to account for the pandemic re-negotiated deals with talent to account for the changes — Warner Bros. shockingly and, to some creatives controversially, moved their entire 2021 slate to full or simultaneous debuts on HBO Max — Johansson’s suit claims that Disney and Marvel were unresponsive to requests by her representatives to alter her agreements.
Furthermore, the suit notes that Johansson’s representatives had had prior concerns about the film heading to Disney+ as far back as 2019, quoting an email from Marvel Chief Counsel Dave Galluzzi included in the suit that says Marvel “understand that should the plan change, we would need to discuss this with [Johansson] and come to an understanding as the deal is based on a series of (very large) box office bonuses.”
Speaking to WSJ, John Berlinski, an attorney at Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP who represents Johansson said, “This 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 honour its contracts.” Gizmodo has reached out to Disney for comment on the lawsuit and will update this post if and when we hear more.
In a statement provided by a Walt Disney spokesperson, Disney has responded to Johansson’s suit to say that it has “no merit whatsoever” and that its allegations are “sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Disney has fully complied with Ms. Johansson’s contract,” the statement continues, “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 $20M she has received to date.”