It’s been nearly eight months since the last big “holy shit” news of the pop culture world, and now Scarlett Johansson has delivered some “holy shit” news of her own: According to The Wall Street Journal, she has filed a lawsuit against Disney, claiming that the studio breached her contract when it decided to release Black Widow on Disney+’s pricey “Premier Access” tier on the same day it came out in theaters. Apparently, her contract promised “an exclusive theatrical release” and WSJ says “her salary was based in large part on the box office performance of the film”—which has dropped considerably since the movie came out in July, despite Disney’s insistence that the film started off really well. Supposedly, the loss of box office revenue from putting Black Widow on Disney+ is going to cost Johansson something like $50 million.
The ramifications of this suit are potentially huge, considering that a lot of major players in Hollywood have strongly objected to the way studios dumped their films on streaming platforms in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with WSJ quoting Johansson’s attorneys as saying that “this will surely not be the last case where Hollywood talent stands up to Disney” in this way. The story also says that Johansson was concerned about Black Widow being moved to Disney+ even before the pandemic, and after finding out about Disney’s plan, her representatives tried to reach out to Disney and Marvel to work out a new deal but found them “unresponsive.” The suit even includes an email from 2019 in which a lawyer for Marvel said that the movie would get a regular theatrical release, but that if it didn’t, they would need to “come to an understanding” because of the “(very large) box office bonuses” in Johansson’s contract.
The other “holy shit” part of this is that Johansson has been very active in promoting Black Widow, as she has for every other Marvel Studios movie she’s been a part of. Her character died in Avengers: Endgame and this prequel was the last movie on her contract, but potentially burning this bridge after a decade of being a good soldier for Marvel is a pretty clear indication of how serious she is about this and how much of a big deal this could be. Disney getting slammed by one of its biggest stars like this could very well put a bit of a scare into other studios that have been actively embracing streaming—or it could at least remind them to actually work out these deals ahead of time.
Update: Variety has shared a statement from Disney in response to Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit, with the company saying that “there is no merit whatsoever” to the suit. It also goes somewhat surprisingly hard, suggesting that the suit the suit is “especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Again: This is Disney, one of the most powerful entertainment companies in the history of the world, reacting to a lawsuit from a woman who—up until today—was one of its most bankable stars.
Disney’s response also says that Johansson has already gotten $20 million for her work on Black Widow, and it argues that “the release of Black Widow on Disney+ with Premier Access has significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation.”