Scarlett Johansson, star of Marvel Entertainment’s 2021 movie “Black Widow,” has filed suit against Walt Disney Co. over the decision to release the movie on Disney+ at the same time as in theaters.
Black Widow has a new enemy: the Walt Disney Co.
Scarlett Johansson, star of the latest Marvel movie “Black Widow,” filed a lawsuit Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court against Disney, alleging her contract was breached when the media giant released the film on its Disney+ streaming service at the same time as its theatrical debut.
Ms. Johansson said in the suit that her agreement with Disney’s Marvel Entertainment guaranteed an exclusive theatrical release, and her salary was based in large part on the box-office performance of the film.
“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,” the suit said.
Disney couldn’t be reached immediately for comment.
The suit could be a bellwether for the entertainment industry. Major media companies are prioritizing their streaming services in pursuit of growth, and are increasingly putting their high-value content on those platforms. Those changes have significant financial implications for actors and producers, who want to ensure that growth in streaming doesn’t come at their expense.
“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,” said John Berlinski, an attorney at Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP who represents Ms. Johansson.
According to the complaint, Ms. Johansson’s representatives sought to renegotiate her contract after learning of the dual-release strategy for “Black Widow,” which she has said is her ninth and last Marvel movie. Disney and Marvel were unresponsive, the suit said.
The decision to put the movie on Disney+ is projected to cost Ms. Johansson more than $50 million, a person familiar with details of her contract claimed.
Even before the pandemic, Ms. Johansson was concerned that “Black Window” could end up on Disney+ as part of its wide release. In 2019, Ms. Johansson’s representatives reached out to Marvel seeking assurance that “Black Widow” would have a theatrical-only release, according to the complaint.
In a March 2019 email included in the suit, Marvel Chief Counsel Dave Galluzzi said the release would be according to a traditional theatrical model, adding, “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.”