Disney’s decision to release Black Widow on Disney Plus simultaneously as it hit cinemas has sparked a legal battle with the Marvel movie’s star Scarlett Johansson.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court, attorneys for Johansson allege that the actress’s contract was breached when the studio opted not to debut the film exclusively in theaters, a move they claim depressed ticket sales for the Avengers spinoff. Much of Johansson’s compensation was tied to the box office performance of Black Widow — if it hit certain benchmarks, bonuses would kick in.
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.
Disney chose to placate Wall Street investors and pad its bottom line, rather than allow its subsidiary Marvel to comply with the agreement.
To know one’s surprise Disney breach of the agreement successfully pulled millions of fans away from the theatres and toward its Disney + streaming service.”
Disney announced in March that Black Widow, among several of its 2021 films, would premiere simultaneously on the studio’s subscription-based streaming service, for a premium $30 price, and on the big screen as the movie theater industry rebounded from COVID-19.
On July 9, Black Widow opened to $80 million in the U.S. and Canada, setting a COVID-era box office record, and earned an additional $60 million on Disney Plus. With ticket sales currently at $319 million globally, it stands to be one of the lowest-grossing Marvel movies. However, the suit notes that Disney’s stock rose after the company disclosed the rental figures.
Previous Marvel films have averaged more than $100 million in ticket sales during their opening weekends and nearly $1 billion over the course of their theatrical runs.
Black Widow may have fallen on the lower end of this spectrum because the film takes place in the middle of the MCU timeline, but in a non-pandemic time, it certainly would have performed on par with its peers.
Notably, only eight of Marvel’s 24 theatrical releases have grossed less than $700 million at the global box office. And only three have secured less than $400 million.