Scarlett Johansson is about to go up against a bigger threat than Thanos, Disney’s tenacious team of ravenous lawyers. On Thursday, Johansson filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against Disney, alleging that her contract was breached when the studio released BLACK WIDOW on its Disney+ streaming platform. Johansson attests that her arrangement with Disney’s Marvel Entertainment would bring Black Widow exclusively to theaters. She also says that the agreement involved her salary for the film being based on its box-office performance.
“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 said.
Disney has yet to comment on Johansson’s allegations or how they will go about handling the case. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say they’re probably assembling a superteam of lawyers as we speak.
Should the case go to court, it stands to make a lot of waves for Hollywood studios who’ve chosen to release a series of tentpole films on a variety of streaming services. To be fair, porting films to streaming services has proven essential for some studios as they continue to weather the ongoing pandemic. The move to host major films on outlets like Netflix, Amazon, and Disney+ has provided studios with a platform to distribute films that otherwise might have gathered dust over the past year and change. While this hasn’t always worked out for the creative teams behind each project, it has certainly kept the ball rolling for shareholders and other Hollywood types.
“Why would Disney forgo hundreds of millions of dollars in box office receipts by releasing the Picture in theatres at a time when it knew the theatrical market was ‘weak,’ rather than waiting a few months for that market to recover?” inquires the complaint. “On information and belief, the decision to do so was made at least in part because Disney saw the opportunity to promote its flagship subscription service using the Picture and Ms. Johansson, thereby attracting new paying monthly subscribers, retaining existing ones, and establishing Disney+ as a must-have service in an increasingly competitive marketplace.”
The complaint also states Disney’s actions “not only increased the value of Disney+, but it also intentionally saved Marvel (and thereby itself) what Marvel itself referred to as ‘very large box office bonuses’ that Marvel otherwise would have been obligated to pay Ms. Johnasson.”
According to the complaint, Johansson’s representatives attempted to renegotiate her contract upon learning about Black Widow‘s simultaneous release in theaters and on Disney+. Disney and Marvel failed to respond, leaving the iconic Marvel actress in the lurch, the suit said. Due to the film’s simultaneous release, Johansson stands to lose upward of $50 million for her part in the film.
Predictably, Black Widow‘s theatrical performance numbers dropped not long after the film hit cinemas. Piracy and the option to stream the movie from home certainly played a part in the film’s downturn, but no matter how you slice it, the damage was done. Many analysts questioned Disney’s move to make the film available to Disney+ subscribers (albeit for a fee of $29.99), and now one has to wonder if they’re crowing about their predictions.
I’m positive that we’ll hear more about this suit as the confrontation continues to develop. Stay tuned as Johansson’s next Marvel mission finds her going up against the studio’s own team of lawyers.