Black Widow delivered a record opening weekend for Disney a few weeks ago. But that’s a record for the new pandemic world where not all moviegoers are thrilled to return to cinemas. That’s why Disney made the movie available on streaming on the same day it launched in theaters. The Disney+ take was another record for the company. And it was the first time Disney disclosed Premier Access sales. Black Widow might have made over $1 billion at the box office before COVID-19. The film’s second weekend showed that wasn’t going to be the case. A few weeks later, Scarlett Johansson sued Disney over the film’s day-and-date release. The actress alleges that Disney broke its contract. As a result, she lost more than $50 million in additional revenue from ticket sales. Disney responded on Thursday afternoon to the lawsuit rather brutally.
Johansson’s lawsuit alleges that her contract with Disney guaranteed an exclusive theatrical release for Black Widow. The suit reveals that the two parties agreed that her salary would “be based largely” on box office returns. That’s the kind of deal other MCU actors received in the past. Robert Downey Jr.’s lucrative Iron Man deals often come up in reports about Marvel movies’ financial performances.
Disney and Marvel delayed Black Widow a few times since the pandemic began. The film had an early May 2020 release date, but the studios kept pushing it back as the health crisis deepened. It wasn’t until earlier this year that Disney confirmed speculation that Black Widow will see a hybrid launch.
The Scarlett Johansson vs. Disney battle is heating up
Johansson reportedly sought to renegotiate her contract after learning that Black Widow will launch in theaters and on Disney+. But Disney and Marvel were not responsive, according to the suit.
The actress appeared in eight movies MCU movies, including Iron Man, Captain America, and Avengers installments before getting her own standalone film. Fans have waited for years for Disney and Marvel to give Johansson her own MCU movie. That only happened after her character, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, died in Endgame.
Disney reacted fiercely to the suit, bringing the pandemic into the argument and revealing Scarlett Johansson’s salary for Black Widow in the process — via Deadline:
There is no merit whatsoever to this filing. The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Disney has fully complied with Ms. Johansson’s contract and furthermore, the release of Black Widow on Disney+ with Premier Access has significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20M she has received to date.
This is a strong response from Disney, the company that insisted on reopening its theme parks in 2020 while the pandemic was decimating the country.
The pandemic isn’t over
It’s not just Disney using the pandemic in their argumentation. Johansson’s attorney John Berlinski of Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP accused Disney of hiding behind the pandemic to boost its own Disney+ numbers. Here’s what Berlinski said in a statement before Disney’s reaction.
It’s no secret that Disney is releasing films like Black Widow directly onto Disney+ 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. 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.
Johansson inked her deal with Marvel and Disney before the pandemic. Nobody could have seen it coming. The same is likely true for all the movies that should have launched theatrically last year. Some of them saw hybrid releases and/or were delayed.
The number of COVID-19 cases has been rising sharply in the past few weeks in the US and some international markets where Black Widow premiered in cinemas. Disney is about to launch Jungle Cruise in theaters and on Premier Access. Whatever happens in the Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit, Disney might have to decide on whether to give other pictures day-and-date releases. According to current plans, three other Marvel films will launch this year, but only in theaters.