Disney sued by Black Widow star Scarlett Johansson over movie’s streaming release

Disney sued by Black Widow star Scarlett Johansson over movie's streaming release

Joan E. Solsman | CNET.Com

Troy Warren for CNT

Johansson alleges the Disney Plus release violated her contract and affected how much she was paid.

Disney is being sued by Black Widow star Scarlett Johansson over the company’s decision to sell the Marvel blockbuster on its streaming service Disney Plus simultaneously with its release in theaters. The suit alleges that Disney breached Johansson’s contract, claiming she was guaranteed an exclusive theatrical release and missed out on compensation because her pay was partly tied to the the film’s box-office performance — but not on any success streaming. 

Disney said the complaint had “no merit whatsoever.”

“The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the company said in a statement, adding that Disney “has fully complied” with Johansson’s contract. On top of the $20 million Johansson has received to date, Disney said, releasing Black Widow on Disney Plus “significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation.” 

Johansson’s suit, which was reported earlier by the Wall Street Journal, claims Black Widow’s streaming release cost her $50 million.

Marvel’s Black Widow is the latest — and the biggest — same-day film release on Disney Plus so far. As has become the practice of several major studios during the coronavirus pandemic, Disney released the film in theaters and online at the same time, which gives film fans wider options for watching a highly anticipated flick when health risks and public safety protocols continue to crimp audiences’ ability and willingness to cram into theaters. Disney’s model, known as Premier Access, requires an extra $30 payment on top of the regular price of a Disney Plus subscription.  

But this same-day strategy has outraged some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, directors and producers, whose pay is often linked to box office performance in contracts that were devised pre-pandemic when the idea of a same-day release on a streaming service was preposterous. 

When Warner Bros. revealed an unprecedented plan to release its entire 2021 slate on streaming service HBO Max at no extra cost the same day films hit cinemas, Christopher Nolan, one of the studio’s star directors for nearly 20 years, derided the decision for flipping the “greatest movie studio” into “the worst streaming service.” 

Johansson’s suit marks the most high-profile court challenge to the same-day strategy so far.  

Black Widow drew a big audience its opening weekend, both on the big screen and at home. Disney Plus subscribers spent more than $60 million to watch it online, on top of its $158 million haul at the box office worldwide during its first weekend. But the film didn’t have as much staying power with theatergoers in subsequent weekends as previous Marvel blockbusters have, stoking speculation that the availability of the movie online may be weighing on demand to see it in cinemas. So far, the film has grossed more than $300 million globally in theaters.  

While Disney charges an extra fee to stream its same-day movie releases, Warner Bros. and NBCUniversal’s DreamWorks Animation don’t. Warner Bros. movies are available to anyone who’s a $15-a-month premium subscriber to HBO Max, and DreamWorks released its latest film, its Boss Baby sequel, on NBCU’s streaming service Peacock for members paying as little as $5 a month. 

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By Troy Warren

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