- Scarlett Johansson is suing Disney over its “Black Widow” dual release, saying it cost her money.
- The suit is an early repercussion of studios’ decision to debut movies online and in theaters.
- Here’s what you need to know about Johansson’s battle with Disney.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
It was an unprecedented move when Disney debuted its first pandemic-era movie simultaneously on its streaming service and in theaters.
Directors speculated on how doing so could impact the future of traditional filmmaking, streaming platforms followed suit to cash in on movies during a time when theaters were largely shuttered, and many viewers were thrilled they could watch new films at home.
But actress Scarlett Johansson, who stars in Marvel’s “Black Widow” that debuted on Disney+ and in theaters on July 9, filed a lawsuit against Disney on Thursday – and it’s one of the first sticky situations bred out of studios’ decision to release movies online and in theaters.
Here’s what you need to know about the “Black Widow” star’s lawsuit against Disney.
On Thursday, Johansson’s lawsuit was made public and argued that Disney, which owns Marvel, violated her contract when it released “Black Widow” on its streaming platforms and in theaters.
Johansson’s salary is largely based on box office performance – her character’s standalone film raked in $US158 ($AU215) million from theaters across the globe. However, Disney enjoyed $US60 ($AU82) million in home sales of the movie, which costs $US30 ($AU41).
And so sources told the Wall Street Journal that she was shorted an estimated $US50 ($AU68) million because of the discrepancy.
Marvel’s chief counsel Dave Galluzzi assured Johansson and her team in early 2019 that the film would have an exclusive theatrical release and not be aired online, according to an email included in the lawsuit.
Galluzzi confirmed that was the case and said he would consult the actress if those plans changed since the deal “is based on a series of (very large) box office bonuses.”
Who are the main players?
Johansson, Disney, and Disney’s Marvel.
What did Disney say about it?
A company spokesperson told Insider on Thursday “there is no merit whatsoever” to Johansson’s lawsuit and said the filing was “especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Johansson’s attorney, John Berlinski, pushed back on that claim in an email to Insider and said Disney is “hiding behind Covid-19 as a pretext” to “increase subscribers and thereby boost the company’s stock price.”
Disney also said it has “fully complied” with Johansson’s contract and said she’s able to earn even more compensation with “Black Widow” airing on Disney+. It also publicly disclosed the actress’ salary ($US20 ($AU27) million.)
Marvel, on the other hand, reportedly wasn’t happy with Disney’s decision to release “Black Widow” both online and in theaters, in part because it could lead to piracy.
What’s at stake?
Johansson’s lawsuit could change how Hollywood pays and contracts talent in an age where streaming is rising in popularity.
As Berlinksi told Insider in an email Thursday, the lawsuit won’t 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.”
Some are calling for actors to receive payments upfront if movies are going to be released on streaming sites, which could prevent situations like Johansson’s from occurring.
The so-called streaming wars have heated up during the pandemic as Warner Bros’ HBO Max, Disney+, and others have released high-budget, high-quality films on their services, which subsequently boosted subscribers and their bottom line.
But movie theaters, already battered by the pandemic, are suffering and are far from recovery. As Insider previously reported, “Black Widow” benefited Disney more than it did theaters.