Scarlett Johansson isn’t exactly feeling the Disney magic in regards to her latest movie.
E! News can confirm the Marvel star filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Thursday, July 29, alleging that her contract was breached when Walt Disney released Black Widow on its streaming service Disney+ at the same time it debuted in theaters.
According to court documents obtained by E! News, Scarlett is suing the Walt Disney Company for intentional interference with contractual relations and inducing breach of contract.
“Why would Disney forgo hundreds of millions of dollars in box office receipts by releasing the Picture in theaters at a time when it knew the theatrical market was ‘weak,’ rather than waiting a few months for that market to recover?” the complaint stated. “On information and belief, the decision to do so was made at least in part because Disney saw the opportunity to promote its flagship subscription service using the Picture and Ms. Johansson, thereby attracting new paying monthly subscribers, retaining existing ones, and establishing Disney+ as a must-have service in an increasingly competitive marketplace.”
Scarlett’s team also claims in the complaint that her agreement with Disney guaranteed an exclusive theatrical release for her solo film and her salary was based partly on the box office performance.
“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,” Scarlett’s attorney John Berlinski said in a statement to E! News. “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.”
His statement continued, “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.”
On July 29, a Walt Disney Company spokesperson released a statement saying there is no merit to the filing. “The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement read. “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.”
Marvel’s Black Widow is one of many movies that have debuted simultaneously on streaming services and in theaters because of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to CNBC, the film earned a little over $150 million at the box office domestically in the first three weeks in theaters. Disney, however, reported that the move tallied $60 million from sales on Disney+ during opening weekend.
“Disney has enjoyed the benefits of having one of Hollywood’s top actresses promote its wholly owned subscription service at no additional cost to Disney, and with the intended effect of taking money out of that actress’ own pocket,” the complaint alleged. “Through its conduct, Disney caused damage to Plaintiff by, among other things, inducing acts that cannibalized box office receipts for the Picture and thereby reduced Plaintiff’s deferred compensation and box office bonuses under the Agreement, in an amount to be proven at trial.”
Wall Street Journal was first to report on the lawsuit.