Following the record-breaking opening of Cate Shortland's Black Widow earlier this month, and its shocking box office downturn in its second weekend, there has been a lot of conversation recently about the decision to simultaneously release the movie on the big screen and via Premier Access on Disney+. Mostly it has heated up the ongoing conflict between theatrical and streaming – but that changed in a massive way this morning when it was announced that Scarlett Johansson has filed a lawsuit against the Walt Disney Company. The news has sent a shockwave through the industry, but now the corporation has responded to the news, and has in doing so categorically denied the legitimacy of Johansson's claims.
The Walt Disney Company has issued an official statement following this morning's news regarding Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow lawsuit, and you can read it in full below:
There is no merit whatsoever to this filing. The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. 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.
While there are obviously a lot of details in this whole case that we don't know about yet, most notably elements of Scarlett Johansson's contract with Marvel Studios, the fight that is starting to play out here is about backend profits. The actor's deal included stipulations that would see her make a certain amount of money based specifically on the theatrical earnings of Black Widow – and that was long before the decision was made to have the blockbuster be released day-and-date on Disney+. Johansson is claiming that this move by the studio was a breach of contract, and that attempts at renegotiation following the streaming announcement in March did not get a response.
In the studio's rebuke, representatives for Disney are not only saying that the company has fulfilled their side of the contract, but suggest that Scarlett Johansson's lawsuit is in bad taste given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic since March 2020. There is also what reads as an accusation of avarice, as the statement reveals the 10-figure total the Black Widow star has already made from the movie, and adds that the digital release still offers her opportunities to add to her compensation.
As alluded to above, Black Widow has not been performing at the box office up the expectations that have been established for new films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Five of the studios' last six releases have made more than a billion dollars at the global box office, and the latest title is unlikely to increase that win percentage. To date it has only made $319.5 million globally, which means that it is ranked 23rd in the 24-movie franchise (ahead of only Louis Leterrier's The Incredible Hulk from 2008).
What we have heard about today with this development is really just the opening barbs of what should be a significant and prolonged legal battle – and it could wind up having a massive impact on both the future of movie distribution and Hollywood contract negotiation. It should go without saying that we here at CinemaBlend will be keeping a close eye on how things proceed, and keep you apprised of all the biggest updates.