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Scarlett Johansson fights Disney over ‘Black Widow’ streaming release

The "Avengers" star claims Disney broke her contract with Marvel by releasing "Black Widow" to theaters and its Disney+ streaming service simultaneously.

(CN) — Hollywood superstar Scarlett Johansson sued Disney on Thursday claiming the House of Mouse induced a breach of contract to the tune of at least $50 million.

Johansson’s contract with Marvel Entertainment, which is owned by Disney, promised her a set share of the film’s box office revenues — revenues she now claims will be unfairly diminished by the company’s decision to stream the film day and date with its theatrical release.

Johansson has starred in nine films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise, beginning with 2010’s "Iron Man 2." She is among the highest paid actors in Marvel’s MCU, playing Russian ex-assassin Natasha Romanoff — aka Black Widow — in the majority of its recent films. Her latest foray into the role was already expected to be her last for Marvel.

“I have no plans to return as Natasha,” Johansson said in July interview with Fatherly. “I feel really satisfied with this film. It feels like a great way to go out for this chapter of my Marvel identity.”

Johansson claims Disney’s decision to stream the movie on Disney+ suppressed the box office ticket sales on which her bonus is based. "Black Widow" has so far earned $319 million worldwide, making it one of Marvel’s all-time lowest grossing films. Around $60 million of that came from Disney+, but she says her bonus is based solely on box office sales. Her base salary was reported to be $15 million — the same as her male co-stars Chris Evans (Captain America) and Chris Hemsworth (Thor).

“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,” said John Berlinski, Johansson's attorney, in a statement. “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.”

Johansson also served as an executive producer, the first star in the MCU to land a coveted producer role. That’s where her backend deal on box office came from, and thus the impetus for Thursday’s lawsuit. Her compensation for the film makes her the second-highest paid Marvel star to-date, surpassed only by Iron Man Robert Downey Jr, who bagged an eye-watering $50 million for his final role in "Avengers: Endgame."

In a statement, Disney rejected Johansson's claims that her Marvel contract was thwarted.

“There is no merit whatsoever to this filing. The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the Covid-19 pandemic,” a Disney 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 $20 million she has received to date.”

Despite the growing preferences of much of their audience, Hollywood has resisted some studios’ moves in recent months to release films to theaters and streaming services simultaneously. WarnerMedia paid millions of dollars to compensate actors and filmmakers who claimed to have lost backend income from ticket sales, and agreed to include revenue from its HBO Max streaming service in their new pay packages.

Other studios have also reportedly restructured backend deals with their cast and crews to appease actors and filmmakers who are feeling left out in the streaming era. It remains to be seen if any other such lawsuits pop up as increasing numbers of viewers grow accustomed to opening-day streaming releases.

Johansson seeks monetary and punitive damages.

Berlinski, her attorney, practices with Kasowitz Benson Torres.

Follow Dustin Manduffie on Twitter.

Follow @dmanduff
Categories / Consumers, Entertainment, Media

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