Actress Scarlett Johansson sued The Walt Disney Co. Thursday, alleging the entertainment giant breached her contract by releasing her latest Marvel film “Black Widow” on the Disney+ streaming service despite assurances it would debut only in theaters.
Disney blasted the legal action, saying it showed “callous disregard” for the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lawsuit, which was submitted Thursday morning in Los Angeles Superior Court but not yet officially filed, contends that Johansson structured her salary for “Black Widow” to be “based largely on `box office’ receipts generated by the picture.”
“To maximize these receipts and thereby protect her financial interests, Ms. Johansson extracted a promise from Marvel that the release of the picture would be a `theatrical release,”’ the suit states. “… Disney was well aware of this promise, but nonetheless directed Marvel to violate its pledge and instead release the picture on the Disney+ streaming service the very same day it was released in movie theaters.”
The suit contends the move was aimed at boosting interest in the Disney+ service while also allowing Disney to “keep the revenues for itself.”
“Second, Disney wanted to substantially devalue Ms. Johansson’s agreement and thereby enrich itself,” the lawsuit states.
Disney issued a blistering statement Thursday afternoon, saying the suit has “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,” according to Disney. “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 $20 million she has received to date.”
The lawsuit contends that Johansson and Marvel Studios — owned by Disney — signed a contract for her to appear in “Black Widow,” guaranteeing a “wide theatrical release” and ensuring the film “would remain exclusively in movie theaters for a period of between approximately 90 and 120 days.” The deal, however, was finalized six months before the November 2019 launch of the Disney+ streaming service, the suit contends.
Ahead of that launch, Marvel confirmed to Johansson’s representatives that “Black Widow” would be “widely theatrically released,” the suit states. Despite those assurances, Disney announced in March 2021 that the film would be simultaneously released on the Disney+ Premier Access service, which provides access to films for $30.
“This was the direct result of Disney directing Marvel to ignore Ms. Johansson’s agreement and/or overruling Marvel’s wishes to comply with it,” the suit states.
Despite objections from Johansson, the film was released in theaters and on Disney+ on July 9. The suit says the move “successfully pulled millions of fans away from the theaters and toward its Disney+ streaming service,” substantially dropping the film’s box office revenue.
“According to Disney’s own self-congratulatory press release, the picture grossed more than $60 million on Disney+ Premier Access in its first weekend alone,” the suit states.
The suit seeks unspecified monetary and punitive damages.