August 2, 2021
Movie stars often work for a share of box office profits—so when a film opens simultaneously on both cinema screens and streaming services, their cut of the final take is bound to be smaller.
And now, Scarlett Johansson—star of the latest Marvel movie “Black Widow”—has filed a lawsuit for just that reason, The Wall Street Journal reports.
On Thursday, July 29, in Los Angeles Superior Court, Johannson filed a suit against Disney, alleging her contract had been breached when the media giant released the film on its Disney+ streaming service at the same time as its theatrical debut.
Johansson said in the suit that her agreement with Disney’s Marvel Entertainment guaranteed an exclusive theatrical release, and her salary was based in large part on the box-office performance of the film.
“Disney intentionally induced Marvel’s breach of the agreement, without justification, in order to prevent … Johansson from realizing the full benefit of her bargain with Marvel,” the suit alleged.
A Disney spokesperson told the Journal that Johansson’s suit had no merit and is “especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The company said it “fully complied with ,,, Johansson’s contract 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 $20 million she has received to date.”
Indeed, according to the Journal, the suit could be a bellwether for the entertainment industry. Major media companies are giving priority to their streaming services in pursuit of growth, and are increasingly putting their high-value content on those platforms. Those changes have significant financial implications for actors and producers, who want to ensure that growth in streaming doesn’t come at their expense.
“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,” said John Berlinski, an attorney at Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP who represents Johansson.
According to the complaint, Johansson’s representatives sought to renegotiate her contract after learning of the dual-release strategy for “Black Widow,” which she has said is her ninth and last Marvel movie. Disney and Marvel were unresponsive, the suit said.
The decision to put the movie on Disney+ is projected to cost Johansson more than $50 million, a person familiar with details of her contract claimed.
Even before the pandemic, Ms. Johansson was concerned that “Black Widow” could end up on Disney+ as part of its wide release. In 2019, Ms. Johansson’s representatives reached out to Marvel seeking assurance that “Black Widow” would have a theatrical-only release, according to the complaint. In a March 2019 email included in the suit, Marvel Chief Counsel Dave Galluzzi said the release would be according to a traditional theatrical model, adding, “We understand that should the plan change, we would need to discuss this with you and come to an understanding as the deal is based on a series of (very large) box office bonuses.”
Research contact: @WSJ