Disney and Scarlett Johansson Settle Polarizing Black Widow Lawsuit
Scarlett Johansson filed suit against Disney on July 29, alleging her contract with Marvel was breached when Black Widow was released on the Disney+ streaming service at the same time as in theaters. Disney responded with a request for private arbitration by Daniel Petrocelli following their initial response that her claim had “no merit.”
“I am happy to have resolved our differences with Disney,” stated Johansson. “I’m incredibly proud of the work we’ve done together over the years and have greatly enjoyed my creative relationship with the team. I look forward to continuing our collaboration in years to come.”
Disney Studios chairman Alan Bergman added: “I’m very pleased that we have been able to come to a mutual agreement with Scarlett Johansson regarding Black Widow. We appreciate her contributions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and look forward to working together on a number of upcoming projects, including Disney’s Tower of Terror.”
After Johansson’s initial claim, Disney’s first tactic was to claim callousness on Johansson’s response to their breach of contract. A Disney spokesperson said, in part, “The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Johansson countered that the studio’s choice to stream Black Widow on the Disney+ streaming service drastically diminished the box office performance while wildly bolstering the streamer’s subscriptions. Disney, in what appears to have been an insinuation at Johansson’s greed, claimed that she was paid $20 million for the film.
In the court of public opinion, opinions were mixed depending on which demographic you asked. In the end, the actors, executives and filmmakers rallied, as they saw this would set the precedent for future breaches of contracts, not just with Disney, but other studios, as well.
CAA co-chairman Bryan Lourd’s opinion was that Disney “shamelessly and falsely accused Ms. Johansson of being insensitive to the global COVID pandemic, in an attempt to make her appear to be someone they and I know she isn’t.”
Johansson’s contract with the Disney Marvel branch guaranteed an exclusive theatrical release when she signed her deal. She alleged that her contract was breached when the film was simultaneously released on Disney+.
“Why would Disney forgo hundreds of millions of dollars in box office receipts by releasing the picture in theatres at a time when it knew the theatrical market was ‘weak,’ rather than waiting a few months for that market to recover?” the complaint asked. “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.”
According to the complaint, Disney’s move “not only increased the value of Disney+, but it also intentionally saved Marvel (and thereby itself) what Marvel itself referred to as ‘very large box office bonuses’ that Marvel otherwise would have been obligated to pay Ms. Johansson.”
Conversely, WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, after admitting that the decision to stream Warner Bros.’ films on HBO Max was a hasty decision, decided to handle things differently.” The decision ended up costing as much as $200 million to pay the stars whose Warner Bros. films were impacted by opening in theaters and on its HBO Max streaming service, including Patty Jenkins, Gal Gadot and Will Smith. “We said from the start that we were going to treat every single film as a blockbuster, from an economic perspective, for participants, that we were going to be fair and generous, we were going to do the right thing. The good news is we did, and we worked our tail ends off to do that. And we’re now in a very good situation.” This news was first reported at The Hollywood Reporter.