Disney fires back at actress Scarlett Johansson after she sues over streaming of ‘Black Widow’

Actress Scarlett Johansson has filed suit against Disney after the entertainment behemoth started airing the film “Black Widow” on its streaming network Disney+, reports said Thursday.

The 36-year-old star of Marvel films filed her suit in Los Angeles Superior Court earlier this week claiming that Disney violated her contract after the media company released the film simultaneously in theaters and on its streaming platform, for a $29.99 fee.

In her lawsuit, Johansson claims that her contract ensured an exclusive release of the film in theaters because a great deal of her salary was depending on its box office sales.

“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,” the suit alleges, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Disney officials said that they also released the film on the company’s streaming channel because in-person theater capacity has been limited around the country due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

But Johansson’s legal team pushed back.

Attorney John Berlinski responded: “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.”

Disney responded to the lawsuit in a blunt statement saying it had “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,” a Disney spokesperson said, according to Variety.

“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 $20M she has received to date,” the studio added.

The Daily Mail reported that in its opening weekend, Black Widow took in $60 million alone on Disney+.

Earlier this month when it was released, the film brought in $218 million globally, a record during the pandemic era.

However, box office receipts fell off sharply after opening weekend, leaving some to speculate that streaming purchases were taking away from theater ticket sales.

“Black Widow saw box office receipts plunge 67 percent after opening weekend, and ticket sales currently stand at $319 million globally, putting the film on track to become one of the lowest-grossing Marvel movies of all time,” the Daily Mail reported.

It’s not clear what monies Johansson is slated to earn from streaming sales.

The actress is currently one of the highest-paid in Hollywood, with an estimated net worth of about $165 million, the Daily Mail reported, adding that her previous highest-paying film was “Ghost in the Shell,” earning her a reported salary of $17.5 million.

Johansson’s lawsuit goes on to point out that Disney’s stock value increased after the company released its “Black Widow” income figures. The suit claims that the company wanted to steer more revenue to Disney+ “where it could keep the revenues for itself while simultaneously growing the Disney+ subscriber base, a proven way to boost Disney’s stock price.”

“Second, Disney wanted to substantially devalue Ms. Johansson´s agreement and thereby enrich itself,” the suit says, adding that Johansson worried as early as 2019 about a streaming release, but that Marvel assured her the film would go to theaters first.

“We understand that should the plan change, we would need to discuss this with you and come to an understanding as the deal is based on a series of (very large) box office bonuses,” Marvel Chief Counsel Dave Galluzzi said in an email to the actress’s agents, which is included in the lawsuit.

Jon Dougherty

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