Scarlett Johansson Sues Disney Over Black Widow Streaming Release

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The Wall Street Journal has reported that the star of Black Widow, Scarlett Johansson, filed a lawsuit against Disney on Thursday. She alleges that Disney breached her contract when they released her movie in cinemas and on their streaming service, Disney+, simultaneously.

A large part of Johansson’s salary was to be based on the film’s box office performance. Apparently, her contract agreed to an exclusive theatrical release. Her lawsuit argues that Disney intentionally supported Marvel’s breach of the contract in order to stop Johansson from realising the full benefit of her contract.

With many major media companies prioritising streaming services, this could be a landmark case in the entertainment industry. High-profile movies and TV shows being released on streaming platforms is having a financial impact on actors and producers. A case like this brings the issue to light. Growth in streaming should not come at an expense to those who work on the projects.

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 honor its contracts

John Berlinkski, one of Johansson’s legal representatives

Apparently, Johansson’s representatives attempted to renegotiate her contract with Disney. They did so after learning about the simultaneous release of the movie. However, the lawsuit claims that Disney were unresponsive. Black Widow being released on Disney+ is projected to cost the actress over $50 million, a person familiar with the details of her contract claimed.

Included in the lawsuit is an email from March 2019. In it, Marvel Chief Counsel Dave Galluzzi said that the release would be that of a traditional theatrical model. But, Galluzzi added that if this plan changed, Johansson’s deal would be renegotiated accordingly.

Scarlett Johansson in Black Widow (source: Disney)

The New Normal

This new method of simultaneously releasing movies in cinemas and on streaming services began partly due to the Covid-19 pandemic. During this time, cinemas ran at limited capacity with social distancing in place and many shut altogether. Other large corporations, such as WarnerMedia, were quick to follow Disney’s simultaneous release strategy.

WarnerMedia amended many of its talent contracts to account for the inevitable drops in box office profits. They paid more than $200 million to talent as part of the renegotiated contracts.

The extended use of streaming services such as Disney+ has impacted the salaries of actors and producers

The Numbers

During its opening weekend, Black Widow grossed $80 million at the domestic box office and $78 million overseas. It’s the highest-grossing movie since the beginning of the pandemic. On Disney+, the film generated $60 million in streaming purchases.

However, the theatrical profits dropped the week following release, more so than most Marvel films. Hollywood experts and analysts have questioned if streaming availability has hurt box office results. A few Disney executives worried that an at-home release would tarnish the overall appeal of Marvel. But, the number did not disappoint for the media giant.

Marvel usually dominates the box office, with multiple titles that have collected more than $1 billion in ticket sales. These films and their characters then extend to merchandising. With the franchise growing, it’s going to become an increasing issue for stars who find their salaries slashed due to the box office competing with online streaming.

Black Widow’s box office profits dropped after the opening weekend (source: Disney)

Disney is yet to comment on Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit.

Black Widow is available to watch in theatres or stream on Disney+ with premiere access.

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