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Scarlett Johansson sues Disney over streaming release of Black Widow

·2-min read
 (Jay Maidment)
(Jay Maidment)

Scarlett Johansson is suing Disney over its streaming release of Black Widow, which she said breached her contract and deprived her of potential earnings.

In a lawsuit filed in 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 $30 (£21.50) rental.

“In the months leading up to this lawsuit, Ms Johansson gave Disney and Marvel every opportunity to right their wrong and make good on Marvel’s promise,” the lawsuit said.

“Disney intentionally induced Marvel’s breach of the agreement, without justification, in order to prevent Ms Johansson from realising the full benefit of her bargain with Marvel.”

Disney said there was “no merit” to the lawsuit, saying it had complied with her contract. It added in a statement that the release of the movie on its streaming platform had “significantly enhanced her (Johansson’s) ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20 million she has received to date.”

The Disney statement said the lawsuit was “especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

After its release was delayed by more than a year because of Covid-19, Black Widow debuted to a pandemic-best of $80 million (£57.2 million) in North America and $78 million (£55.8 million) from international cinemas three weeks ago, but theatrical grosses declined sharply after that.

 (Jay Maidment)
(Jay Maidment)

In its second weekend on release, the National Association of Theatre Owners issued a rare statement criticising the strategy, asserting that simultaneous release lends itself only to lost profits and higher quality 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 Warner Bros’ big budget The Suicide Squad opens both in cinemas and on HBO Max.

The revised hybrid release strategies over the 16 months have occasionally led to public spats from not just cinema owners, but stars, filmmakers and financiers who are unhappy with the potential lost revenues and the alleged unilateral decision-making involved.

The WSJ said Warner Media, for instance, paid more than $200 million (£143 million) in “amended agreements” with talent over its decision to release its entire 2021 slate simultaneously in cinemas and on HBO Max.

But none have been as public as Johansson’s lawsuit.

The actor, who has been in nine Marvel movies going back to 2010’s Iron Man 2, quickly became a trending topic on Twitter on Thursday after news of the suit broke.

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