Scarlett Johansson Sues Disney Over Black Widow Streaming Release, Disney Responds

After the latest MCU movie, Black Widow was released on Disney+, star Scarlett Johansson has filed a lawsuit against Disney


Update: In response to the lawsuit, Disney has released a statement obtained by Variety. "There is no merit whatsoever to this filing," it reads. "The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic." Furthermore, the statement says the company has upheld its end of the contract, while noting the actress has already received $20 million for her role in the film, adding that "…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." You can read the original story below.

Black Widow isn't done fighting yet. Scarlett Johansson, who reprised her role as Natasha Romanoff in the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe film, has filed a lawsuit against Disney, alleging that the company releasing the movie on the Disney+ streaming service at the same time it did so theatrically was a breach of her contract.

The news comes from The Wall Street Journal, which reports that Johansson's contract not only guaranteed an exclusive theatrical release for the film but that its performance on the big screen would ultimately determine the actress's salary. Of course, Black Widow was originally scheduled to hit theaters in 2020 but was ultimately delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

When a new release date was set, it was announced that the film would hit theaters and Disney+ Premier Access on July 9. According to the suit, "Disney intentionally induced Marvel's breach of the agreement, without justification, in order to prevent Ms. Johansson from realizing the full benefit of her bargain with Marvel."

Per the suit, Johansson's team attempted to renegotiate her contract after the decision to debut the film on Disney+ was made, but Disney and Marvel were not responsive. However, in a copy of the lawsuit, obtained by Deadline, Marvel's chief counsel is quoted as previously saying, "We totally understand that Scarlett's willingness to do the film and her whole deal is based on the premise that the film would be widely theatrically released like our other pictures. 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." According to WSJ, the decision to not renegotiate could end up costing the actress over $50 million.

Black Widow wasn't the only Disney film to get the Premier Access treatment, which allows audiences to watch the film at home for a limited time for a $30 fee. Before Black Widow, Mulan, Raya and the Last Dragon, and Cruella were all released with this model. Mulan was the lone film to initially only be released via Premier Access, as most theaters around the world were closed. Jungle Cruise--due on July 30--will hit theaters and Premier Access simultaneously and is currently the last announced Disney movie to be getting that treatment.

Likewise, Warner Bros. announced that its 2021 movie slate would debut on HBO Max and in theaters on the same day. When the move was announced at the end of 2020, some film creatives were not thrilled with the decision--namely Dune director Denis Villeneuve, who claimed he only learned his movie would be released on streaming through Warner Media's public announcement.

During its opening weekend, Black Widow earned $80 million at the domestic box office--along with an additional $60 million in Premier Access sales. The following week, though, theater revenue dropped 68% to just $26 million, a rather steep drop, especially for a Marvel Cinematic Universe film. Theater owners claimed this was due, in part, to people pirating the film following its digital release--a sentiment echoed in Johansson's lawsuit. "Millions of others who would have watched in the theatres will instead view the Picture on perfect digital pirated copies—-all made possible by Disney's decision to release the Picture 'day-and-date' on Disney+," the legal document reads. "Indeed, Black Widow was the No. 1 pirated title of the July 19 week, per the news site TorrentFreak."

Black Widow remains in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access for those who have yet to see it. The next Marvel movie, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, hits theaters on September 3. Beyond that, the Hawkeye series debuts on Disney+ on November 24.

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