‘Black Widow’ Lawsuit Could Upend Talent Compensation Agreements

NEWS ANALYSIS — Scarlett Johansson’s breach-of-contract lawsuit — filed July 29 against Walt Disney Studios and Marvel Entertainment regarding the studio’s decision to simultaneously release Marvel Studios’ Black Widow in theaters and on the Disney+ subscription streaming platform — could upend Hollywood contracts with actors, producers and distributors.

Johansson alleges Disney made Black Widow available to Disney+ subscribers as a $29.99 Premier Access add-on in an effort to reduce its compensation to the actor, which was in part based on box office take. She reportedly is the highest-grossing and highest-paid actress in Hollywood.

Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow) character has been a mainstay within the Marvel Cinematic Universe since first appearing in Iron Man 2 in 2010. With the character getting her own solo movie, the financial stakes on the release were high. So high, Disney pushed back the theatrical debut three times from an original May 2020 launch due to the COVID-19 pandemic effectively shuttering much of the exhibition business.

From the gist of the lawsuit, Johansson claims she was assured Disney would follow an exclusive theatrical release strategy for Black Widow. With such a strategy in place, the studio delayed due to the pandemic, then instead chose to release the title concurrently in theaters and on its branded PVOD platform, Premier Access, a decision that earned the studio more than $60 million in incremental revenue in addition to the $80 million opening domestic box office.

Disney’s first-ever disclosure of Premier Access revenue suggested the haul was a fiscal home run. Disney first went with hybrid distribution for the Labor Day 2020 release of Mulan. That was followed in March this year with Raya and the Last Dragon and Cruella in May. Action adventure movie Jungle Cruise bows in theaters and Premier Access July 30.

However, Black Widow’s domestic box office take plummeted 68% in its second week, and another 55% in its third, a drop that led the National Association of Theatre Owners to blast Disney’s hybrid release strategy. The film also has yet to receive a release date in China, suppressing its potential international box office take. And, with a pristine copy made available online by Disney+, Black Widow quickly became the most pirated movie of the pandemic era, according to Torrent Freak. Many industry watchers also pointed to these factors as reasons MCU fans weren’t returning to theaters for multiple viewings of the film — a phenomenon typically required for a blockbuster film to sustain its box office legs.

Thus far, Black Widow has earned $159 million domestically and $160 internationally for a global total of $319 million, making it the second-lowest earner of the 24 MCU movies, on par with some of its earlier releases before 2012’s The Avengers made it a must-watch franchise, and certainly the lowest earner of any movie the character has appeared in, which previously was the aforementioned Iron Man 2 at $621 million.

In addition, Disney announced Black Widow would be available for digital purchase Aug. 10, giving it just a 32-day theatrical window, well short of the 90 days of a traditional theatrical release, and even the 45 days of newer agreements between studios and theaters that emerged during the pandemic. The announced Sept. 14 Blu-ray and DVD release date is just a 67-day window.

Apparently, Johansson’s contract with Disney/Marvel didn’t include a provision for PVOD distribution (and additional compensation). While Disney called the lawsuit “sad and distressing,” the litigation could redefine theatrical distribution in the age of COVID. Johansson’s lawsuit also has reportedly inspired other actors in Disney hybrid releases, such as Emma Stone of Cruella, and Emily Blunt of Jungle Cruise, to consider filing lawsuits of their own against Disney.

“Given how the pandemic has affected how movies are now released today, the court is going to look very closely at the contract between Ms. Johansson and the film company,” Krenar Camili, an attorney in Little Falls, N.J., told Esquire Digital. “If it was indeed a breach of contract for them to release the movie in both formats at the same time, then Johansson will need to prove that she suffered damages by their doing so.”

Indeed, Disney disclosed that Johansson had been paid $20 million for Black Widow, trying to undermine the actor’s claim of fiscal harm. Johansson’s agent, CAA, criticized Disney for disclosing their client’s financial agreement.

“They have shamelessly and falsely accused Ms. Johansson of being insensitive to the global COVID pandemic, in an attempt to make her appear to be someone they and I know she isn’t,” Bryan Lourd, co-chairman of the Creative Artists Agency, said in a statement.

But to Aron Solomon, head of strategy at Esquire Digital, the case centers on how actor/producer/director compensation agreements are written in the SVOD/pandemic era. Specifically, Solomon believes the case, regardless of the outcome, will see studios more narrowly define talent’s compensation dependent upon a movie’s distribution strategy.

“While Disney’s comments have far more of a theatrical rather than legal impact, they set the stage for a pandemic-centered battle Royale,” Solomon wrote. “Essentially, this case has the potential to redefine the entire notion of what ‘industry standard’ is today and what it could become tomorrow.”

MCU Titles Surge at FandangoNow

FandangoNow has seen a spike in sales for all 20 Marvel cinematic universe titles since the theatrical bow of Avengers: Endgame, with all appearing among its top 100 films, according to the service.

FandangoNow is movie site Fandango’s transactional VOD platform.

The site also reported a surge in preorders and first-day sales for Captain Marvel, hitting home this week. The female-driven superhero film is pacing similarly to Marvel’s Black Panther, one of FandangoNow’s most purchased titles of all time, according to the service.

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Captain Marvel is one of the year’s most entertaining films, and one of the most talked-about Marvel movies ever,” said FandangoNow managing editor Erik Davis in a statement. “It’s clear fans want to see lots more of Brie Larson’s high-flying superhero, and are excited to watch all the bonus content, deleted scenes and outtakes, especially after seeing her in Avengers: Endgame.”

According to a FandangoNow survey of fans planning to watch Captain Marvel at home, 91% are excited to revisit Captain Marvel’s origin story at home after seeing her on the big screen in Avengers: Endgame, while 60% plan to watch Captain Marvel at home before they head to the theater to see the MCU’s next chapter, Spider-Man: Far from Home.

Since the release of Endgame, the five best-selling MCU titles are:

  1. Spider-Man Homecoming*
  2. Iron Man
  3. Captain America: The First Avenger*
  4. Marvel’s The Avengers*
  5. Avengers: Age of Ultron*

 

*Available in 4K

 

‘Captain Marvel’ Soaring to Digital May 28, Disc June 11 From Disney

Captain Marvel will fly to digital in HD and 4K Ultra HD (including Movies Anywhere) May 28, and land on Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray June 11 from Disney, Direct to Consumer and International.

The home release dates were revealed during the May 8 espnW Summit NYC, at which Marvel Studios hosted a Captain Marvel panel.

The film, which has surpassed $1 billion at the box office worldwide, chronicles the origin story of the female superhero.

The release includes featurettes that highlight the transformative journey of Brie Larson (Captain Marvel) and her character’s impact on audiences around the globe; the influence of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) on significant events within the Marvel Cinematic Universe; the pairing of directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck; the ongoing conflict between the Skrulls and the Kree; and the talent behind the feline named Goose. Viewers also gain access to six deleted scenes, director commentary, a gag reel, and never-before-seen concept art and production photography.

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The digital release includes two exclusive features, including a behind-the-scenes visit with the visual effects team and an inside look at the team effort that goes into an action sequence in a Marvel Studios film.

At the panel, Marvel also unveiled a new trailer.

Deadpool 2

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Fox;
Action Comedy;
Box Office $318.37 million;
$29.99 DVD; $34.99 Blu-ray; $44.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for strong violence and language throughout, sexual references and brief drug material.
Stars Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Zazie Beetz, Julian Dennison, Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller, Leslie Uggams, Karan Soni, Brianna Hildebrand, Shioli Kutsuna, Eddie Marsan, Rob Delaney.

In the age of the superhero movie, you can always count on Deadpool to take the utter piss out of the genre — and in doing so, provide a bit of the counter-balance to how seriously some of the films take themselves.

Sure, movies like “Ant-Man” or “Guardians of the Galaxy” might lighten the mood a bit with some jokes and irreverent characters, but Deadpool takes it to that next level, where there is no reference that can’t be made, and no gag that is out of bounds.

And what makes it work is that, just like the comic books that inspire it, the “Deadpool” movies are also the very thing they are making fun of — intense action, complicated plots, larger-than-life characters. It’s just a healthy dose of meta-humor can go a long way in setting it apart.

In this second film, Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) finds himself trying to protect a mutant teenager (Julian Dennison) from a mutant from the future named Cable (Josh Brolin) who wants to kill him before the kid fully unleashes his powers and becomes one of the world’s greatest villains.

To do that, and with the X-Men not available (thanks to one of several hilarious cameos), Deadpool forms X-Force, a team of marginal superheroes to help him rescue the kid and change the future.

With David Leitch taking over directing duties, the action is much more intense than the first film, and without the structural limitations of needing to tell Deadpool’s origin story, the script this time out doesn’t feel the need to follow any rules. (For example, with Brolin also playing Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, you can bet Deadpool 2 isn’t going to let that one slide without a comment).

Part of what makes the humor so effective is the commitment the filmmakers make to the material, putting absurd characters in the middle of a serious situation. The highlight is a pitch-perfect parody of a James Bond opening title sequence, complete with a haunting ballad sung to the hilt by Celine Dion.

The Blu-ray includes a 15-minute longer “Super Duper $@%!#& Cut” that, based on what some of the filmmakers say during the bonus materials, seems like it could have been the original version of the movie before it was trimmed for time and softened up a bit to hit the ‘R’ rating. This version has more violence, more guns, alternate jokes and some different music in parts. It’s an intriguing version but not a fundamentally different film.

The Super Duper cut is included on its own disc with no extras, as all the bonus materials are included with the disc containing the theatrical cut. And, as with the first film, the extras are a trove of Deadpool material from a hilarious marketing campaign.

This section includes several promotional spots and all the trailers, plus some international pieces such as Deadpool offering free tattoos to attendees of a Brazilian comic book convention. There are also a few music videos, including for Dion’s title-sequence tune, and a stills gallery.

The disc also offers a three-minute gag reel and a couple of deleted scenes, including the oft-mentioned scene in which Deadpool embarks on a quest to kill Baby Hitler (also included in the Super Duper cut).

The theatrical cut comes with a great audio commentary with Reynolds, Leitch, and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Warnick, who collectively discuss structuring the story and why they chose to include the gags that they did.

Finally, the Blu-ray includes about 75 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes.

“Deadpool Family Values: Cast of Characters” is a 15-minute profile of the characters; “David Leitch Not Lynch: Directing DP2” is a 12-minute look at the new director’s influence on the film and cast; “Deadpool’s Lips Are Sealed: Secrets and Easter Eggs” is a 13-minute look at how the film maintained secrecy while including a ton of surprises for fans; “Until Your Face Hurts: Alt Takes” is nine minutes mixing some of the alternate line readings with interviews about what makes a “Deadpool” film such a lively set; “Roll With the Punches: Action and Stunts” is a seven-minute look at the film’s action scenes; “The Deadpool Prison Experiment” is an 11-and-a-half examination of the film’s scenes set at a prison for mutants; “The Most Important X-Force Member” is a two-minute profile of Deadpool’s new pal Peter; “Chess With Omega Red” is a minute-long revelation of one of the other prisoners; “Swole and Sexy” is a two-minute profile of some of the film’s other characters; and “3 Minute Monologue” offers two minutes of Brolin’s ruminations as he gets into his Cable makeup.