Scarlett Johansson filed suit against Walt Disney Co. on Thursday, claiming the entertainment giant deprived her of untold “Black Widow” box office profits by offering the Marvel blockbuster on its streaming service.
Johansson said a significant portion of her compensation is based on box office receipts and she claimed Disney promised to make the picture initially available exclusively in traditional movie theaters.
But when Disney instead made “Black Widow” simultaneously available on its streaming service, Disney+, that took a chunk of a box office profits and wrongly denied Johansson a cut of ticket sales, according to the Los Angeles County Superior Court complaint.
A Walt Disney representative could not be immediately reached for comment on Thursday.
“Disney saw the opportunity to promote its flagship subscription streaming service … and establishing Disney+ as a must-have service in an increasingly competitive market,” Johansson’s attorney, John Berlinski, wrote.
And all the while, Johansson dutifully hyped the movie without knowing that Disney was going to short-change her at the box office, according to Berlinski.
“Adding insult to injury, Ms. Johansson has spend the last several months fulfilling her own obligation under the agreement to promote the picture – and therefore, by association, its release on Disney+,” Berlinski wrote.
“In other words, 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 lawsuit did not name a figure in damages or suggest what cut of box office sales are due to Johansson.
Key terms in Johansson’s 2017 “Black Widow” deal with Disney are “theatrical release” and “wide theatrical release,” which the actress insisted is well-known Hollywood language for traditional movie theaters.
“Both parties … understood this meant that the picture would initially be released exclusively in movie theaters and that it would remain exclusively in movie theaters for a period of between approximately 90 and 120 days,” the lawsuit said.
And in the entertainment business, the language cited by Johansson’s lawyers was well-accepted and known throughout Tinseltown, according to Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian.
“A ‘theatrical release’ is indeed in theaters,” Dergarabedian said. “Pre-pandemic, pretty much every big studio movie that was conceived for the big screen had a theatrical-first release with about a 90-day window to eventual streaming or video-on-demand release.”
When word spread of Disney+ possibly getting first-run access to “Black Widow,” Johansson’s lawyers said they received multiple written assurances from Disney that movie theaters only would have first crack at showing the action adventure.
“Black Widow” debuted on July 9 and brought in $80 million in ticket sales that first weekend. But at the same time, Disney offered “Black Widow” on its streaming service for $30, allowing viewers to watch it as many times as they’d like, and took in $60 million.
The movie enjoyed a respectable third weekend in theaters, spinning $11.6 million in ticket sales, bringing its global total to more than $314.9 million.
Since the coronavirus pandemic has been shifting so many movie dollars from theaters to home screens, Forbes box office analyst Scott Mendelson said he’s amazed this dispute made it so far without a resolution.
“It blows my mind that Disney didn’t have conversations of how streaming revenue would be allocated vs. box office revenue long before today,” Mendelson said.
“Or you think they’d make an effort to come to the players who they think might sue them and say, ‘Hey we’re changing our strategy, what can we do to make you whole?'”