SCARLETT JOHANSSON, DISNEY in LAWSUIT Battle Over “BLACK WIDOW” Release

It took a good long while, but earlier this month what should have been the opening shot of Phase 4 of the MCU franchise was released. “Black Widow,” an interquel starring Scarlett Johansson as super-spy Natasha Romanov, premiered simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access streaming. While its opening weekend was solid as far as mid-pandemic cinema releases go, over the next few weeks the film’s box office tanked compared to the premieres of newer movies, and opinions point to the streaming premiere eating into moviegoers’ share. Lead star Johansson seems to agree with this, and for other reasons, has sued Marvel Studios’ parent Disney for alleged contract breaches.

The Hollywood Reporter tells us that Scarlett Johansson has filed a lawsuit against the Walt Disney Company this past Thursday, July 29, for adding the Disney+ Premier Access streaming option along with the planned theatrical release for “Black Widow.” The actress and her legal counsel noted that her contract with Marvel Studios for the film stipulated that the initial premiere must be exclusive to cinemas, as her salary for the project was stated to be dependent on the box office returns, which steeply diminished after its first week in theaters.

Outside analysts have theorized that the streaming option was too convenient that it discouraged viewers from going to theaters to watch “Black Widow.” Johansson’s lawyer John Berlinski remarks that Disney may have forced Marvel Studios to allow the film to go on Premier Access despite the potential cutting into the box office take. Not only does this construe a breach of contract according to Berlinski, but also serves to further increase its streaming subscribers at the expense of his client.

For their part, Disney has released a response describing Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit as meritless, in addition to being “sad and distressing” in its disregard for people who might be trying to avoid the ongoing COVID pandemic by skipping cinemas entirely and just watching “Black Widow” on Disney+. A company spokesperson insists that Disney did not violate their contract with the actress, and that the Premier Access option only serves to bring her additional compensation on top of the $20 million she has gotten from box office returns so far. The Disney position seems to echo that of other media giants like Warner Bros. doing similar theater-streaming releases via HBO Max, in a move that capitalizes on audiences preferring home viewing.

It is just as well that the solo “Black Widow” film is the last on Johansson’s contract with Marvel Studios, and she may just wash her hands of it altogether.

Image courtesy of Vanity Fair

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