Scarlett Johansson sues Disney over 'Black Widow' move

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Scarlett Johansson is suing Disney over its decision to release 'Black Widow' on streaming at the same time as in cinemas, alleging that it was a breach of contract which cost the star millions of dollars.

The actress — who played Natasha Romanoff over a 10-year period from 2010's Iron Man 2 to the Black Widow solo adventure that opened in July after a year-long delay – was entitled to a percentage of box office receipts from the much-anticipated Marvel film, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday at Los Angeles Superior Court.

Scarlett Johansson
Scarlett Johansson is sueing Disney over Black Widow. Photo: Getty

The film was originally due for a big-screen release in May 2020, but was delayed multiple times due to the Covid-19 pandemic and was eventually released this month simultaneously in cinemas and on Disney+.

Scarlett's salary for the film would be based largely on how it performed at the box office. 

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Although Black Widow grossed more than US$200 million worldwide during its opening weekend — including US$80 million at the US theatrical box office, and US$60 million via Disney+ — the film experienced a significant drop-off in subsequent weeks.

As originally reported in the Wall Street Journal, sources said the actress could stand to lose upwards of $50 million in bonuses over the move.

"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," Scarlett Johansson's attorney John Berlinski said in a statement.

"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 honour its contracts," he added.

A spokesperson for Disney — which owns superhero movie powerhouse Marvel Studios — dismissed the lawsuit, telling AFP in a statement that Disney had not breached any contract and that "there is no merit whatsoever to 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," it said.

scarlett in black widow
Black Widow's release was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Disney

The issue of compensation linked to box office receipts is a growing concern in streaming-focused Hollywood, where such deals for top A-listers are common.

Rival studio Warner Bros was slammed last year for a similar decision to release all of its 2021 movies simultaneously in theaters and on its HBO Max platform.

Warner renegotiated many of its deals with stars and filmmakers, reportedly paying out $200 million to compensate for the loss of box office earnings.

"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," John Berlinski, an attorney at Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP who represents Ms. Johansson, told the Wall Street Journal.

Additional reporting by AFP and Ethan Atler.

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