Scarlett Johansson and Disney are embroiled in a legal battle over the release of the movie Black Widow in theatres. Disney is the owner of Marvel Studios. It is the company behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). However, the company is the most profitable film franchise in history. The company has cast Scarlett since 2008 for the role of Russian spy turned Avenger Natasha Romanoff or Black Widow in MCU movies.
When the Covid-19 hit late in the year 2019 and early 2021, the world came to a halt as lockdowns were put in a place. To curb the spread of the virus, governments around the world shut down the theatres. The global theatrical business was drastically suffered. Many Hollywood movies wanted a window in theatres, instead, they went to streaming services.
In December 2020, Warner Bros opted for a hybrid release model and moved all its 2021 films for theatrically release with a release on its streaming service HBO Max the same day. The Suicide Squad, Judas and the Black Messiah, The Matrix Resurrections, and Dune are some of the movies that had a hybrid release.
The move unsurprisingly caused chaos in the filmmaking community, and among creatives, actors, and exhibitors. Christopher Nolan was fierce and said to The Hollywood Reporter, “Some of our industry’s biggest filmmakers and most important movie stars went to bed the night before thinking they were working for the greatest movie studio and woke up to find out they were working for the worst streaming service.” He has worked with Warner bros since 2002’s Insomnia.
But Warner continued with the model, signaling a seismic shift in Hollywood’s distribution strategy. Disney releases Mulan’s live-action remake in September 2020 with the same modal. As earlier, this movie also did not exactly do wonders for them. Later, it implemented the same strategy for some more movies. Apart from the Black Widow, the movies include Raya and the Last Dragon, Cruella, and Jungle Cruise.
The contracts of actors depend on the box office performance of their movies. During pre-pandemic, there used to be a certain time gap, usually 30 days of 45 days between theatrical and streaming releases. Since post-pandemic, theatres are among the few that opened. As it ran at half capacity, the model did not exactly work.
THE LEGAL WAR
On July 29, Black Widow actress Scarlett Johansson had sued Disney. She claimed that Disney’s hybrid release strategy for Black Widow breached the terms of her contract. The lawsuit further claimed that the strategy is to boost Disney+ subscriptions. The lawsuit read, “Disney intentionally induced Marvel’s breach of the agreement, without justification, in order to prevent Ms. Johansson from realizing the full benefit of her bargain with Marvel.”
Black Widow was released on July 9 in the US and a few other selected countries. The film was also streamed on the PVOD service of Disney+ called Premier Access. The movie was the first standalone movie of Johannsson as the superhero and probably last starring her.
Johansson also alleged that Disney’s decision to release the film in the current environment robbed her of $50 million in box office bonuses. Also, the same time release in theatres and Disney+ reduced the film’s box office returns. She further alleged that her bonuses that depended on the film’s theatrical profits also suffered negatively.
The response from Disney was shockingly aggressive. “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,” it responded.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Johansson tried to sue Disney for 100 million dollars compensation for the loss in return from the production.