Epic battles take place all the time in the Marvel universe, but now a real battle royale has broken out between the Disney-owned studio and one of its biggest stars that could have significant repercussions throughout Hollywood.
Actress Scarlett Johansson has sued The Walt Disney Co. over its simultaneous theatrical and streaming release of Black Widow, claiming Disney broke its promise to her that it would open the movie in cinemas first. She has alleged the “day-and-date” release benefited Disney executives while depriving her of box-office receipts.
In the lawsuit filed this week in Los Angeles Superior Court, attorneys for Johansson said Marvel promised the star that Black Widow would receive a “theatrical release.”
“As Ms. Johansson, Disney, Marvel, and most everyone else in Hollywood knows, a ‘theatrical release’ is a release that is exclusive to movie theatres.”
The agreement allegedly provided for Black Widow to open exclusively in cinemas for a period roughly between 90 and 120 days, which was the traditional “theatrical window” before the coronavirus pandemic upended the industry.
Johansson claimed Marvel ignored her attempts to negotiate after the studio announced it would debut Black Widow in theaters and on Disney+ at the same time.
Her complaint specifically cited Disney chairman Bob Iger and CEO Bob Chapek, claiming both men received stock compensation tied directly to the performance of the Disney+ streaming service.
“In short, the message to—and from Disney’s top management was clear: increase Disney+ subscribers, never mind your contractual promises, and you will be rewarded,” the suit alleged.
Johansson claimed she was cheated financially because her compensation was “largely [based] on box office receipts,” which she alleged were cannibalized by Disney+ and digital piracy.
The lawsuit will be closely watched by Hollywood talent — as well their agencies and unions — as studios shift more of their blockbuster movies to day-and-date releases in an attempt to bolster their streaming services.
Star compensation has traditionally consisted of a percentage of box office receipts, but the explosion of digital streaming has muddied the financial waters. If successful, Johansson’s lawsuit could embolden more stars to demand studios cough up the money.
Black Widow grossed a respectable-for-Marvel $80.4 million domestically on its opening weekend but then saw its second-week grosses plummet by a whopping 68 percent as moviegoers opted to stay at home and stream the movie through Disney+ Premier Access, which charges an extra $30, or watch it through illegal piracy sites.
Disney bragged earlier this month that Black Widow grossed $60 million from Disney+ alone.
Johansson, who is seeking unspecified damages from Disney, is one of the studio’s biggest stars, having appeared in multiple Marvel movies in the past ten years. She has topped Forbes’ list of highest-paid actresses — earning an estimated $56 million in 2019 — and has an estimated net worth of $165 million.