Disney sued by Scarlett Johansson for alleged contract breach in 'Black Widow' streaming release

Disney and American actress Scarlett Johansson are in a tussle after the actress filed a lawsuit against the company for a reported contract breach because Black Widow was streamed on Disney+ alongside a theatrical release. According to multiple media reports including the Wall Street Journal, Johansson alleged that Marvel Entertainment, a division under Disney, "guaranteed an exclusive theatrical release" for Black Widow and her salary was also dependent in large part on the film's box-office performance. The suit alleged that Disney "intentionally induced Marvel's breach of the agreement, without justification," WSJ said, adding that this was to prevent the actress from achieving the full benefit of her bargain with the company.

Disney, however, claimed that Johansson's lawsuit "had no merit" and it is "especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard" of COVID-19's prolonged global effects, WSJ and CNBC reported. The company also explained that it has fully adhered to Johansson's contract and Black Widow's release on Disney+ with premier access has "significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation". This is in addition to the US$20 million Disney said the actress has received to date.

Prior to the pandemic, Johansson was reportedly concerned that Black Widow would be on Disney+ as part of a wider release. As such, her representatives sought assurance from Marvel in 2019 that Black Widow "would have a theatrical-only release". The suit included a March 2019 email which showed Marvel chief counsel Dave Galluzzi confirming that the release would be in accordance with a traditional theatrical model, WSJ said. Galluzzi added that both parties would need to have a discussion to reach an understanding as the deal "is based on a series of (very large) box office bonuses", the report added. While Johansson's representatives wanted to renegotiate her contract after hearing about the dual-release strategy for Black Widow, WSJ reported that both Disney and Marvel were unresponsive.

Meanwhile, the suit stated that the annual bonuses for Disney chairman Robert Iger and CEO Bob Chapek are tied to the performance of Disney+. As such, it claimed that there was "further motivation" for the company to include Black Widow on the streaming platform. MARKETING-INTERACTIVE has reached out to Disney for comment.

Black Widow reportedly garnered US$80 million in US and Canada box-office revenue during the launch on 9 July. Compared to Marvel debuts in general, WSJ reported previously that the box-office performance is "below average" as it was ranked 19th out of all 24 Marvel Cinematic Universe titles going back to 2008. Disney+ has since launched in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. The streaming platform amassed nearly 104 million paid subscribers at the end of Q2 2021, Chapek said in its financial earnings call. The company is also on track to achieve its guidance of 230 million to 260 million subscribers by the end of 2024.

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