Scarlett Johansson is suing Disney over its decision to stream the superhero movie “Black Widow” at the same time it hit theaters, over a breach of contract that cost the star millions of dollars.
Johansson, one of Hollywood’s biggest and highest-paid stars, was entitled to a percentage of the highly anticipated Marvel film’s box office receipts, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court.
The film was originally scheduled to hit the big screen last year, but was delayed several times due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and was finally released simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ this month.
Box office analysts have cited the film’s streaming debut as a key factor in a lackluster — by Marvel movie standards — release for a film that grossed just over $150 million in domestic theaters in three weeks.
“It’s no secret that Disney is releasing movies like Black Widow directly on Disney+ to increase subscribers and thereby boost the company’s stock price — and that it’s hiding behind Covid-19 as a pretext for doing so,” Johanssons said. attorney John Berlinski in a statement. to AFP.
“This certainly won’t be the last case where Hollywood talent takes on Disney and makes it clear that whatever the company does, it’s legally bound to honor its contracts,” he added.
Disney dismisses lawsuit
A spokesperson for Disney – which owns superhero movie powerhouse Marvel Studios – dismissed the lawsuit, telling AFP in a statement that Disney had not breached any contract and that “this filing has no merit.”
“The lawsuit is especially sad and disturbing in its heartless disregard for the horrific and long-lasting global effects of the Covid-19 pandemic,” it said.
Like many Hollywood studios, Disney is increasingly prioritizing streaming as a source of future revenue — a process accelerated by the closure of movie theaters following the arrival of the pandemic in the spring of 2020.
After the film’s opening weekend, Disney released a press release claiming that “Black Widow” had made “more than $60 million” on Disney+ alone, where it was available to subscribers for an additional $30.
Johansson’s lawsuit states that “to protect her financial interests, Ms. Johansson received a promise from Marvel that the Picture’s release would be a ‘theatrical release,'” which she understood would not appear on streaming until a traditional “window” time had passed.
But “Disney wanted to take Picture audiences away from movie theaters and into its own streaming service, where it could keep the revenue for itself while growing Disney+’s subscriber base, a proven way to boost Disney’s stock price,” it claims.
“Disney wanted to significantly devalue Ms. Johansson’s deal and enrich itself with it,” it adds.
The Disney spokesperson said the company has “fully fulfilled Ms. Johansson’s contract” and that the Disney+ streaming release “significantly improved her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20 million she has received to date. “
The issue of compensation linked to receipts is a growing concern in streaming-focused Hollywood, where such deals for top A-listers are common.
Rival studio Warner Bros. was criticized last year for a similar decision to release all of its 2021 films simultaneously in theaters and on its HBO Max platform.
Warner renegotiated many of his deals with stars and filmmakers, reportedly paying $200 million to offset the loss in box office revenue.