Scarlett Johansson Sues Disney Over Release Of ‘Black Widow’

(Photo by Tolga Akmen/ AFP via Getty Images)

Caroline Kucera Contributor
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Superstar actress Scarlett Johansson is suing Disney over its streaming release of “Black Widow,” claiming the company breached her contract and deprived her of potential earnings.

Johansson filed the suit in Los Angeles Superior Court Thursday due to the media giant’s decision to release the film on its streaming service at the same time as its premiere in theaters. The actress claims she agreed that the film would be initially available in a traditional theatre setting via a “theatrical release” and that much of her salary would be based on box office earnings, NBC reported

Johansson believes the simultaneous release to Disney+ stifled ticket sales. 

“As Ms. Johansson, Disney, Marvel, and most everyone else in Hollywood knows, a ‘theatrical release’ is a release that is exclusive to movie theaters,” the suit read, according to CNN. “Disney was well aware of this promise, but nonetheless directed Marvel to violate its pledge and instead release the picture on the Disney+ streaming service the very same day it was released in movie theaters.”

The lawsuit did not suggest what cut of box office sales is due to Johansson or what damages she seeks, according to NBC. 

Disney responded to Johansson Thursday, claiming “there is no merit whatsoever to this filing,” and is “especially sad and distressing” for its disregard for the effects of the pandemic on the entertainment industry, CNN reported. 

“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,” said a Disney spokesperson according to CNN.

 Despite the release being delayed over a year due to COVID-19, the Marvel film initially performed well with audiences. It topped pandemic charts and generated $80 million in ticket sales in North America and $60 million from Disney+ streams on its opening weekend, per CNN.

Today, “Black Widow” has generated roughly $318 million worldwide, which is not massive for a Marvel film, according to CNN. Viewership sharply declined in the second weekend, which fueled the fire for people who do not support simultaneous release. (RELATED: ‘Like A Piece Of A**’: Scarlett Johansson Criticizes The Way Marvel ‘Sexualized’ ‘Black Widow’ Character In 2010 Film)

The National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) issued a statement on July 18, attributing the “underperformance” of the film directly to the hybridized release. 

“Despite assertions that this pandemic-era improvised release strategy was a success for Disney and the simultaneous release model, it [Black Widow] demonstrates that an exclusive theatrical release means more revenue for all stakeholders in every cycle of the movie’s life,” NATO wrote. 

The organization pointed to password sharing and piracy as potential issues blocking more revenue.

According to CNN, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the direct-to-streaming trend by major blockbusters, but not everyone in the industry is behind it. 

“The many questions raised by Disney’s limited release of streaming data opening weekend are being rapidly answered by Black Widow’s disappointing and anomalous performance,” NATO wrote. “The most important answer is that simultaneous release is a pandemic-era artifact that should be left to history with the pandemic itself.”

Disney’s “Jungle Cruise”  starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt was released Friday in the same hybrid format.