Scarlett Johansson, who essays Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has filed a lawsuit against Disney over breach of contract after the company released the Marvel superhero film Black Widow simultaneously on Disney+ and theatres, reported the Wall Street Journal.
The civil lawsuit was filed on Thursday with the Los Angeles Superior Court.
In it, the actor said her agreement with Disney-owned Marvel Entertainment came with the guarantee that the film would have an exclusive theatrical release, with the box-office performance determining her salary. She alleged that the simultaneous release was an intentional breach of the agreement in order to prevent her from realising “the full benefit of her bargain with Marvel.”
Johansson also submitted a March 2019 email from Marvel Chief Counsel Dave Galluzzi confirming that the release of Black Widow would be according to a traditional theatrical model and adding, “Should the plan change, we would need to discuss this with you and come to an understanding as the deal is based on a series of (very large) box office bonuses.”
As per the complaint, Johansson’s representatives sought to renegotiate the contract after learning of the dual-release strategy, but both Marvel and Disney were unresponsive.
Disney released Black Widow, a prequel to the Marvel’s Avengers films, on July 9 in theatres and on Disney+.
The film, based on Johansson’s character as a Russian spy, opened to a weekend collection of $80 million at the US box office, $78 million in international box office, and over $60 million in Disney+ Premier Access consumer spend globally, as per Disney’s report. The film’s performance, however, declined over the following weekends.
Disney said Johansson’s suit had no merit and added it was “especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the Covid-19 pandemic”. The company added that it “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 $20 million she has received to date.”
However, the WSJ quoted a person familiar with Johansson’s contract as saying the Disney+ release of the film is projected to cost the actor more than $50 million.
“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 honour its contracts,” Johansson’s attorney said in a statement.
Aside from Disney, the hybrid release model is currently also followed by Warner Bros, which is releasing its projects simultaneously on HBO Max.
Black Widow released in select countries such as the UK and the US, among others. It is yet to be released theatrically in India and has not premiered on Disney+ Hotstar.