When Disney+ decided to release Marvel’s Black Widow on the same day as its theatrical release it was in the heart of the nationwide shutdowns and self isolation to prevent the spread of the corona virus during the Covid-19 pandemic. But by the time Widow was released most of the country was getting back to business.
Now star Scarlett Johansson is suing Disney for breach of contract. According to Variety: “In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court, attorneys for Johansson allege that the star’s contract was breached when the studio opted not to debut the film exclusively in theaters, a move they claim depressed ticket sales for the Avengers spinoff. Much of Johansson’s compensation was tied to the box office performance of Black Widow — if it hit certain benchmarks, bonuses would kick in.”
“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,” the suit reads.
On July 9, Black Widow set a pandemic-era box office record with its $80 million debut in North America and earned an additional $78 million overseas. It also pulled in $60 million on Disney Plus. Ticket sales steeply declined in subsequent weeks and currently stand at $319 million globally, putting Black Widow on track to become one of the lowest-grossing Marvel movies of all time.
The National Association of Theatre Owners, the industry’s main trade organization, asserted the simultaneous release of Black Widow in theaters and on streaming “costs Disney money in revenue per viewer over the life of the film.”
However, the suit notes that Disney’s stock rose after the company disclosed the rental figures.
“Disney chose to placate Wall Street investors and pad its bottom line, rather than allow its subsidiary Marvel to comply with the agreement,” the suit reads. ”
The Wall Street Journal, which broke the news of the lawsuit, reports that sources close to Johansson estimate that the decision to release the film concurrently on Disney Plus resulted in $50 million in lost bonuses.
“It’s no secret that Disney is releasing films like Black Widow directly onto Disney Plus to increase subscribers and thereby boost the company’s stock price – and that it’s hiding behind Covid-19 as a pretext to do so,” John Berlinski, an attorney for Johansson, said in a statement to Variety. “But ignoring the contracts of the artists responsible for the success of its films in furtherance of this short-sighted strategy violates their rights and we look forward to proving as much in court. 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.”