July 29, 2021
In a significant development, Scarlett Johansson, star of Disney/Marvel Studios’ Black Widow, has filed a lawsuit against Disney for its concurrent theatrical and Premier Access VOD release of the Marvel superhero movie earlier this month.
The suit, filed in U.S. Superior Court in Los Angeles, alleges her contract with Marvel Entertainment and Disney was breached by the distribution strategy that seeks to release select movies simultaneously in a (shortened) 45-day theatrical window and into consumer homes via premium VOD.
Black Widow was marketed to Disney+ subscribers as a $29.99 add-on, which resulted in Disney reporting more than $60 million in incremental revenue over the same weekend the theatrical release generated $80 million at the domestic box office and $78 million internationally. The dual-release strategy angered some distributors who claimed the PVOD release took revenue away from exhibitors and undermined the movie’s box office lifespan.
To Johansson, whose financial compensation is tied to box office revenue of Black Widow — not streaming — the move resulted in a direct hit on her compensation. A media report suggests the PVOD release cost Johansson $50 million in compensation.
“Disney intentionally induced Marvel’s breach of the agreement, without justification, in order to prevent Ms. Johansson from realizing the full benefit of her bargain with Marvel,” read Johansson’s complaint.
Disney, the global box office champ in 2019 with more than $11 billion in ticket sales — largely from Marvel movies — quietly transitioned some movie releases to Premier Access, beginning with Mulan last Labor Day — as a way of combating the pandemic’s impact on moviegoers and theatrical attendance.
In a media statement, Disney claimed there is “no merit whatsoever” to Johansson’s litigation. It went further to lament the actress’ filing, reportedly saying the actress had already been paid $20 million in compensation for Black Widow.
“The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Disney’s statement read.
Disney’s upcoming Jungle Cruise is slated for concurrent theatrical and Premier Access release.
Disney isn’t the only studio to fall in the crosshairs of actors, producers and directors. When WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar unilaterally decided to release Warner’s entire 2021 theatrical slate concurrently on HBO Max, many players within the studio system said they were blindsided by the move, in addition to being impacted financially. To meet contractual obligations for films such as Wonder Woman 1984, Warner reportedly paid $200 million in talent bonuses based on projected box office had the movie releases not been impacted by the pandemic.
Kilar says Warner will return to the theatrical window in 2022, while also releasing 10 movies concurrently on HBO Max.