Scarlett Johansson, longtime Marvel actress and star of the new superhero hit “Black Widow,” filed a lawsuit against the movie studio in Los Angeles Superior Court Thursday. In documents obtained by USA TODAY, the suit alleges that her contract was breached when “Black Widow” was released on the Disney+ streaming service at the same time as its theatrical debut.
USA TODAY has reached out to Disney for comment.
In the lawsuit, Johansson said her agreement with Marvel Studios guaranteed an exclusive release in movie theaters and her salary was based in large part on box-office performance.
The suit alleges that “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.” In addition, the actress’ representatives wanted to renegotiate her contract after learning of the Disney+ release strategy for “Black Widow” but the suit said that Disney and Marvel were unresponsive to the request.
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The suit includes a March 2019 email where Marvel Chief Counsel Dave Galluzzi said the release would go according to a traditional theatrical model: “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.”
“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,” Johansson’s attorney John Berlinski said in a statement to USA TODAY.
“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. 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.”
Because of the pandemic, Disney – as well as other studios – has had to rethink their release strategy for releasing movies. This year, for major releases like “Raya and the Last Dragon,” “Cruella” and most recently “Black Widow,” the company offered Disney+ subscribers the films the same day as in theaters for an extra $29.99 Premier Access fee.
The Marvel movie set a pandemic box-office record earlier this month with an $80 million opening weekend in domestic theaters. Disney announced that the film also initially made $60 million additionally globally via Disney+ but has declined to release streaming numbers since.
Since first appearing as Black Widow in 2010’s “Iron Man 2,” Johansson has appeared in nine Marvel projects including all four blockbuster “Avengers” movies and was an executive producer on the new film.
Johansson skipped the “Black Widow” premiere and red-carpet events but she did do press interviews for the movie. In a discussion with USA TODAY, Johansson praised Disney for letting the “Black Widow” filmmakers tackle issues on screen such as child trauma and reproductive rights for women.
“It’s very brave in a lot of ways that Marvel let us go there,” she said. “They understand the importance of their massive reach and that you can actually try to provoke some sort of collective consciousness about these very serious subjects.”