In a lawsuit, Johansson makes the claim that Disney’s decision to release Marvel Studios film Black Widow in both cinemas and streaming service Disney+ on the same day resulted in a breach of her contract.
As was first reported by The Wall Street Journal, the suit alleges that Disney’s simultaneous stream-and-theatre release was primarily to ramp up its Disney+ subscriber numbers and inflate its stock pricing. The main issue, you see, is that Johansson had reportedly made a deal with Marvel that would also see her compensated on the backend – profit that would “largely be based on box office receipts.”
The suit reads: “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.”
Furthermore, the star “extracted a promise from Marvel that the release” would be exclusively theatrical; specifically, a wide theatrical release of “no less than 1,500 screens” and a plant to “remain exclusively in movie theaters for a period of between approximately 90 and 120 days.”
The suit claims that when Disney changed the release plans, Johansson and her team attempted to renegotiate, but Disney was unresponsive.
How much of Black Widow‘s potential profit was brought down directly by this release strategy or by the pandemic is up for debate, but it’s clear – and unsurprising – that the usual Marvel numbers aren’t there. Black Widow is currently looking at a worldwide box office draw of $US319 million since release, with a sharp 68% week-two drop in revenue – the worst in Marvel movie history, with various reports suggesting that huge piracy numbers and a PVOD release essentially “cannibalised” the picture upon release.
Disney execs named
Johansson’s lawsuit also takes aim at the company’s execs, claiming that “Disney’s financial disclosures make clear that the very Disney executives who orchestrated this strategy will personally benefit from their and Disney’s misconduct.”
Specifically, it names Disney CEO Bob Chapek and his awarded equity grants, which allegedly total “3.8 times his $US2.5 million base salary” in 2021″, that came with the “primary justification” of launching Disney’s direct-to-consumer services. Disney exec chairman Bob Iger is also named for allegedly having the “overwhelming majority” of his $US16.5 million compensation coming in stock grants, which points to the Disney+ success the company reported in their annual report.
The lawsuit made the allegation clear: “In short, the message to – and from – Disney’s top management was clear: increase Disney+ subscribers, never mind your contractual promises, and you will be rewarded.”
Disney has shot back at Johansson’s lawsuit, saying that there was “no merit whatsoever to this filing”. In a firm statement, a Disney spokesperson said, “The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
And as Johansson’s lawsuit shared revenue numbers seen by Disney execs, the company decided to employ a similar tactic and unveil what Johansson made from the film. The spokesperson said, “Disney has fully complied with Ms. Johansson’s contract and furthermore, the release of Black Widow on Disney+ with Premier Access has significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20M she has received to date.”
Johansson is seeking unspecified damages, with The Walt Disney Company named as sole defendant. We’ll keep you informed as this develops.