Black Widow star Scarlett Johansson is lining up for another epic battle – suing the Walt Disney Company over the movie’s streaming release.
In a lawsuit filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court on Thursday (local time), the Black Widow star and executive producer said her contract had guaranteed an exclusive theatrical release.
“Disney intentionally induced Marvel’s breach of the agreement, without justification, in order to prevent Ms Johansson from realising the full benefit of her bargain with Marvel,” the suit reads.
Lawyers for Johansson say the simultaneous release of Black Widow in cinemas and on streaming service Disney+ put a lid on ticket sales for the Avengers spinoff – and cost Johansson millions.
Johansson’s potential earnings were tied to the movie’s box office performance – if it hit certain benchmarks, she would get bonuses.
The Wall Street Journal, which broke the news of the lawsuit, reports she lost up to $A67 million.
Johansson’s legal action claims Disney wanted to steer audiences toward 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”. Black Widow can be streamed through Disney+ for a premium rental of $A40.
“Second, Disney wanted to substantially devalue Ms Johansson’s agreement and thereby enrich itself,” the lawsuit said.
Disney has scoffed at the claims, saying “there is no merit in this filing”.
“The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the company said in a statement.
“Disney has fully complied with Ms Johansson’s contract and, furthermore, the release of Black Widow with Disney+ with Premier Access has significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20 million she has received to date”.
Johansson’s lawsuit notes that Disney’s stock price rose after the company revealed the film had generated $US60 million through Disney+ purchases.
Black Widow‘s release was delayed by more than a year due to the coronavirus.
It set a pandemic box office record of $US80 million in North America and $US78 million from international theatres three weeks ago. But ticket sales have fallen away steeply and Black Widow is on track to become one of the lowest-grossing Marvel movies of all time.
Shortly after the movie’s debut, the National Association of Theatre Owners, the industry’s main trade organisation, issued a rare statement criticising the streaming/box office strategy. The simultaneous release “costs Disney money in revenue per viewer over the life of the film”, it said.
Simultaneous theatrical and streaming releases were once unheard of but have become more common for many of the biggest studios during the pandemic.
This weekend, Disney will repeat the practice with Jungle Cruise, while the big budget The Suicide Squad opens in US theatres and on HBO Max for Warner Bros next weekend.
Johansson has been in nine Marvel movies, going back to 2010’s Iron Man 2.