Marvel’s Black Widow star Scarlett Johansson has filed a lawsuit over the film’s release on Disney+. A new report claims that Johansson filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court today, alleging that Disney breached her contract for Black Widow when it released the film both in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access, the premium addition to Disney+ that allows users to pay upwards of $30 to stream select new movies at the same time they are out in theaters. Scarlett is claiming that since her pay for Black Widow was heavily based on box office performance, the Disney+ release is actually cutting into her profits for the film.
In the statement from Johansson’s suit (via WSJ), it is alleged that “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.”
John Berlinski, an attorney at Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP who represents Ms. Johansson, stated that “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.”
Disney made the rare decision to release certain new movies from its 2020/2021 slate on Disney+ Premier Access at the same time they were released in theaters. Black Widow is without a doubt the biggest film selected for that dual-release campaign, designed to keep Disney movies relevant and accessible as the COVID-19 pandemic plays out.
While some may be wondering why Scarlett Johansson is filing this suit now, after Black Widow is already out (and its release format was known for months), the answer may be, ironically enough, due to the film’s success. Black Widow made upwards of $218 million worldwide on opening weekend – with Disney proudly claiming that $60 million of that came from Disney+ Premier Access. Johansson and her team may not have expected the streaming option to rake in that much – or they may have discovered only later that Disney wasn’t going to share that portion of the profits.
This marks a very interesting turning point in the film industry. The traditional distribution lanes for movie content were completely upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing studios to rapidly pursue new means of premiering blockbuster content, if not holding it back indefinitely. Clearly, the finer points of those rapid changes in strategy haven’t been fully mapped out yet; as Scarlett Johansson’s lawyer indicates, she probably won’t be the last star to take issue with how her movie gets distributed in the streaming era.
Black Widow is now playing in theaters (and obviously on Disney+).
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