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Marvel movie icon and Black Widow star Scarlett Johansson has filed a lawsuit against Disney for premiering her juggernaut superhero movie on streaming platform Disney+ as well as in theaters, accusing the company of breaching her contract in making the film by allowing it a simultaneous debut on a home streaming platform.
In a statement to SYFY WIRE, The Walt Disney Company pushed back, objecting strongly to Johansson’s lawsuit accusations.
“There is no merit whatsoever to this filing,” a Disney spokesperson said. “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.”
A copy of the lawsuit has been uploaded for online viewing at Deadline. Listing two separate complaints, the suit accuses The Walt Disney Company of “intentionally interfering with contractual relations” by inducing Marvel “to breach its agreement with Plaintiff [Johansson] by releasing the film on Disney+ simultaneously with its release in theatres.”
It also alleges “breach of contract” on the part of Disney, for “releasing the film on Disney+ simultaneously with its release in theatres, in violation of the Agreement which required a ‘theatrical release of the Picture’ as the parties understood that term at the time of contracting, meaning an exclusive theatrical release of the Picture.”
Representing Johansson, attorneys for Periwinkle Entertainment, Inc. argue that Johansson’s contract with Marvel had stipulated that her earnings from Black Widow “would be based largely on ‘box office’ receipts,” rather than on the revenues Disney earns through the movie’s $30 premium pricing at Disney+.
“To maximize these receipts, and thereby protect her financial interests, Ms. Johansson extracted a promise from Marvel that the release of the Picture would be a ‘theatrical release,’” the suit states. ”As Ms.Johansson, Disney, Marvel, and most everyone else in Hollywood knows, a ‘theatrical release’ is a release that is exclusive to movie theatres. 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 theatres.”
Actors and directors attached to other major films have publicly objected to the recent move toward sharing their productions’ theatrical debuts with affiliated home streaming services. But Johansson’s lawsuit marks the first legal action taken by an actor.
Denis Villeneuve, director of the upcoming Dune film adaptation, published an open letter late last year at Variety, criticizing Warner Bros. for allowing his film a split release at HBO Max. “Warner Bros.’ decision means Dune won’t have the chance to perform financially in order to be viable and piracy will ultimately triumph,” he wrote. And Wonder Woman 1984 director Patty Jenkins, along with star Gal Gadot, each was compensated $10 million, via CNBC, in the wake of the studio’s decision to stream their film at HBO Max on the same day it released to theaters.
Delayed three times due to COVID-19 concerns from its original May 2020 release target, Black Widow was among the earliest blockbuster films to greet post-pandemic guests when it finally arrived on July 9, releasing at once both in theaters and to Disney+ subscribers as a premium streaming purchase. The movie has since amassed more than $150 million at the global box office. CNBC reports that it also earned an additional $60 million during its debut window at Disney+, though the company has not shared overall revenue figures for the movie’s home streaming run.