Scarlett Johansson, the star of “Black Widow,” is suing Disney, alleging that her contract was violated when Disney put the superhero film on its Disney+ streaming service concurrently with its theatrical release. Disney’s dual-release approach is expected to cost Johansson more than $50 million, prompting her attorneys to seek a contract renegotiation.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, the complaint says that Johansson’s contract with Disney’s Marvel Entertainment guaranteed that the film would premiere solely in theaters and that her salary was heavily contingent on the film’s box office performance.
“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,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court.
In a statement late Thursday, Disney hit back, saying there was “no merit” to Johansson’s lawsuit, and that it “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,” the company noted.
Johansson’s legal battle may be a precursor to broader concerns in Hollywood, as more studios elect to put their films on streaming services around the time they are shown in theaters.
Throughout the epidemic, media conglomerates such as Comcast’s NBCUniversal and AT&T’s WarnerMedia began favoring streaming services above theaters, releasing some of their most anticipated new movies exclusively on their streaming platforms.
The shift has significant financial ramifications for actresses, producers, directors, and anyone who wants to ensure that streaming growth does not come at their price, according to Johansson’s attorney, John Berlinski of Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP.
“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,” Berlinski added.