Scarlett Johansson: why the Black Widow star is suing Disney over streaming of Marvel movie and lost earnings

Disney has dismissed Johansson’s lawsuit, saying the move has ‘no merit whatsoever’

(Photo: Disney)
(Photo: Disney)

Actress Scarlett Johansson has filed a lawsuit against Disney claiming the simultaneous release of her film Black Widow in cinemas and streaming service Disney+ has led to a loss of earnings.

In a lawsuit filed on Thursday, Johansson said the film’s release had breached her contract and prevented her from “realising the full benefit” of her bargain with Marvel.

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“In the months leading up to this lawsuit, Ms. Johansson gave Disney and Marvel every opportunity to right their wrong and make good on Marvel’s promise,” the lawsuit said. “Disney intentionally induced Marvel’s breach of the Agreement, without justification."

Johansson – who not only starred in the recent superhero blockbuster, but served as executive producer too – had her potential earnings tied to the box office performance of the film, an intangible that would have been impacted by the availability of the movie on Disney’s streaming service.

How has Disney responded?

Disney has hit back to Johansson’s lawsuit, saying the move has “no merit whatsoever”.

“The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the Covid-19 pandemic,” the company said in a statement.

“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.”

Black Widow performed admirably on its first week of release in July, raking in $158 million (£113 million) from cinemas around the world, the best box office performance of a film since the pandemic began.

But profits declined sharply after that, with a turnaround in performance so severe, the US’ National Association of Theatre Owners issued a rare statement lambasting Disney’s release strategy.

Why don’t some people like streaming releases?

Although simultaneous cinema and streaming releases have become the norm over the past 18 months due to shuttered cinemas and lockdown restrictions as the world battles the coronavirus crisis, they assert that such dual releases only lead to lost profits.

This is in part due to film’s being more readily available at home – often for a reduced price – and the fact that high-quality versions of films hosted online are more susceptible to piracy.

Black Widow was just the latest in a long line of high-profile film releases to be impacted by the pandemic, with its initial release date being delayed by over a year.

Over the course of Covid-19, public arguments between film distributors, cinemas and production studios have arisen, with disagreements levelled at the most effective way to deliver films to fans while still reaping the same monetary benefits.

Some have chosen to delay their films by nearly two years, with the aim of releasing during a time when the future of the pandemic is a little more certain, while others have done away with planned cinema releases entirely, and taken their wares exclusively to streaming services.

At the start of July, it was reported that Johansson was pregnant with a baby girl, and was expected to give birth very soon.

The Black Widow actress has kept a low profile during lockdown and only appeared on Zoom interviews, meaning she could have been hiding a bump for the past several months.

Johansson married Colin Jost in October 2020, at a low-key romantic ceremony with only close friends and family in attendance.