Scarlett Johansson sues Disney over ‘Black Widow’ streaming release


Scarlett Johansson stars as Natasha Romanoff, AKA Black Widow, in Marvel’s “Black Widow.”

Disney | Marvel

Scarlett Johansson is suing Walt Disney.

The Marvel star filed a lawsuit Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging her contract was breached when the company released “Black Widow” on its streaming service Disney+ at the same time it debuted in theaters.

Johansson claims her agreement with Disney’s Marvel Entertainment guaranteed an exclusive theatrical release for her solo film, and her salary was based, in large part, on the box office performance.

The Wall Street Journal was the first to report the news.

“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,” John Berlinski, an attorney at Kasowitz Benson Torres who represents Johansson, told CNBC.

“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,” he said via email. “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.”

Representatives for Disney did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Disney long held off on releasing major titles like “Black Widow” after the pandemic decimated the movie theater industry. Theaters around the word were closed temporarily to prevent the spread of Covid-19. But as coronavirus restrictions eased, vaccination rates rose and the industry began to bounce back, Disney opted to debut new blockbusters in theaters and through Disney+ for $30 simultaneously.

Disney said this hybrid release model was a temporary pandemic fix and after Friday’s “Jungle Cruise,” it plans to release the rest of its 2021 slate exclusively in theaters in late summer and early fall.

Johansson, who has become a staple in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, negotiated her contract to include a percentage of “Black Widow’s” theatrical gross. Prior to the pandemic, the film was expected to secure a hefty sum at the box office.

However, the coronavirus pandemic has put a damper on ticket sales, as cases continue to surge, and the additional availability of the film in the home video market meant it only hauled in $80 million during its opening weekend. While that figure pales in comparison to other Marvel features, it remains the highest opening figure of any film released after March 2020.

Domestically, the film has garnered a little over $150 million during its first three weeks in theaters. Disney reported “Black Widow” tallied $60 million from sales on Disney+ during its opening weekend, but has not shared additional information about its digital performance.

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

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