Scarlett Johansson is suing Disney over Black Widow streaming release
The longtime Marvel star alleges that the studio breached her contract by releasing the movie on Disney+, while Disney says her lawsuit has "no merit whatsoever."
Black Widow's next big fight might be in the courtroom.
Longtime Marvel star Scarlett Johansson filed a lawsuit against the Walt Disney Co. on Thursday, alleging that the studio breached her contract by releasing Black Widow in theaters and on Disney+ at the same time.
Originally scheduled for March 2020, Black Widow's release shifted several times throughout the pandemic, ultimately debuting earlier this summer in theaters and through Disney+'s paid premier access service for an additional $30. According to Disney, Black Widow earned about $218 million in its opening weekend, of which $60 million came from Disney+.
The lawsuit claims that Johansson had a contractual promise that Black Widow would be a "theatrical release" and her salary would be "based largely on 'box office' receipts." Instead, the suit alleges, Disney tried to use Black Widow as a way to grow its subscriber base, at the expense of Johansson's earnings.
The complaint also compares Disney's approach to rival studio Warner Bros., which similarly moved some of its films — like Wonder Woman — to debut both in theaters and streaming on HBO Max. The suit alleges that Warner Bros. renegotiated with the stars of its films, while "Disney and Marvel largely ignored Ms. Johansson, essentially forcing her to file this action."
In a statement provided to EW, Johansson's lawyer John Berlinski called Disney's release plan "short-sighted" and suggested that the company is prioritizing Disney+ subscribers without honoring existing artist contracts.
"It's no secret that Disney is releasing films like Black Widow directly onto Disney+ to increase subscribers and thereby boost the company's stock price — and that it's hiding behind COVID-19 as a pretext to do so," Berlinski said. "But ignoring the contracts of the artists responsible for the success of its films in furtherance of this short-sighted strategy violates their rights and we look forward to proving as much in court. 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."
Disney issued a statement later Thursday, saying that there is "no merit whatsoever" to Johansson's complaint.
"This lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic," a Walt Disney Co. spokesperson said. "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 Wall Street Journal first reported the news of Johansson's lawsuit, which was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.
This post has been updated to include a statement from a Disney spokesperson.