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Disney Sued by Scarlett Johansson Over 'Black Widow' Streaming Release

Marvel's 'Black Widow'
(Image credit: Disney)

Scarlett Johansson, star of Marvel's Black Widow, has sued Disney over its decision to release the movie earlier this month simultaneously in theaters and as a premium $30 extra on Disney Plus, claiming the distribution strategy breached her contract with the studio and cost her around $50 million. 

"Ms. Johansson agreed that her compensation for starring in the latest motion picture addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (“MCU”), Black Widow, would be based largely on 'box office' receipts generated by the Picture," said the suit, filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court. 

"To maximize these receipts, and thereby protect her financial interests, Ms. Johansson extracted a promise from Marvel that the release of the Picture would be a 'theatrical release.' As Ms. Johansson, Disney, Marvel, and most everyone else in Hollywood knows, a 'theatrical release' is a release that is exclusive to movie theaters," the suit added.

John Berlinski, an attorney at Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP who represents Johansson, told Wall Street Journal, “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.” 

Black Widow opened earlier in July to the best first-weekend domestic box office performance, $80 million in ticket sales, since Disney's last Star Wars featured debuted in December 2019. The film also generated $78 million in international box office. And in a first, Disney released streaming revenue, noting that the film--sold as a $30 extra "Premiere Access" title on subscription service Disney Plus--generated $60 million in first-weekend streaming revenue. 

Since then, two narratives have emerged. LightShed Partners TMT gadfly Richard Greenfield described the day-and-date release as a "watershed moment" for movie studios, in which they realized that they can release movies on their own direct-to-consumer platforms and not have to share revenue with theater chains. 

Meanwhile, exhibitor lobbying org the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) labeled the Black Widow release a flop, noting the film's huge second-weekend drop-off at the box office, and the fact that while Disney doesn't share Premiere Access revenue with theater owners, it does eat into entire sections of the distribution chain, such as PVOD rental/sale. NATO also noted the huge amount of illicit Black Widow to renting by digital pirates.

Daniel Frankel

Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. His reliable mid-range jump shot, deft ambidextrous post-up game and tough interior defense have been criminally overlooked.