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Scarlett Johansson sues Disney over Black Widow release

The actress’s potential earnings were tied to the box office performance of the film, which was released simultaneously in cinemas and on Disney+.

Image: PA Images

SCARLETT JOHANSSON IS suing the Walt Disney Company over its streaming release of Black Widow, which she said breached her contract and deprived her of potential earnings.

In a lawsuit filed this morning in Los Angeles Superior Court, the Black Widow star and executive producer said her contract guaranteed an exclusive theatrical release.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the news of the lawsuit.

Johansson’s potential earnings were tied to the box office performance of the film, which the company released simultaneously in cinemas and on its streaming service Disney+ for a $30 rental. 

“In the months leading up to this lawsuit, Ms Johansson gave Disney and Marvel every opportunity to right their wrong and make good on Marvel’s promise,” the lawsuit said.

“Disney intentionally induced Marvel’s breach of the agreement, without justification, in order to prevent Ms Johansson from realising the full benefit of her bargain with Marvel.”

Disney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

After its release was delayed by more than a year because of Covid-19, Black Widow debuted to a pandemic-best of $80 million in North America and $78 million from international cinemas three weeks ago, but theatrical grosses declined sharply after that.

In its second weekend on release, the National Association of Theatre Owners issued a rare statement criticising the strategy, asserting that simultaneous release lends itself only to lost profits and higher quality piracy.

Once taboo, hybrid theatrical and streaming releases have become more normal for many of the biggest studios during the pandemic, with each adopting its own unique strategy.

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This weekend, Disney is employing the same strategy with Jungle Cruise, and next weekend Warner Bros’ big budget The Suicide Squad opens both in cinemas and on HBO Max.

The WSJ said Warner Media, for instance, paid more than $200 million in “amended agreements” with talent over its decision to release its entire 2021 slate simultaneously in cinemas and on HBO Max.

But none have been as public as Johansson’s lawsuit.

The actor, who has been in nine Marvel movies going back to 2010’s Iron Man 2, quickly became a trending topic on Twitter today after news of the suit broke.

The revised hybrid release strategies over the 16 months have occasionally led to public spats from not just cinema owners, but stars, filmmakers and financiers who are unhappy with the potential lost revenues and the alleged unilateral decision-making involved.

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