This article was originally published on August 30, 2021 on AtomicGeekdom.com
In any other year, a film like Black Widow would have done huge numbers at the box office. Since this isn’t any other year, the 24th film in the expansive Marvel Cinematic Universe has struggled in theaters, only making around $368M, and is predicted to unlikely gross much more in its theatrical run. No doubt, one of the facts related to this low box office gross was due to Disney deciding to release the film same day on Disney+ for a premium price. Now Scarlet Johannson, the film’s star, has decided to sue the House of Mouse for a breach of contract.
Johannson claims that she is owed money because she was guaranteed a percentage of that box office gross for the film. According the suit filed “Disney intentionally induced Marvel’s breach of the agreement, without justification, in order to prevent Ms. Johansson from realizing the full benefit of her bargain with Marvel.” Shortly after this reached the news, Disney fired back with their own statement, saying “[this is] especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.” The company said it “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 $20 million she has received to date.”
The statement made by Disney is an obvious smokescreen to turn the blame on the actress and away from Disney. Disney’s new CEO Bob Chapek has decided to stand by his decision to release the film on Disney+ at the same time. Chapek claims that Disney’s former CEO Bob Iger is behind him on this decision, something The Wrap has heard is not true, claiming that Iger has said they’ve “bungled” this whole thing.
Among the parties supposedly not happy is Marvel CCO Keven Feige, who pushed hard for an exclusive theatrical release of Black Widow. At the time of this writing, no official statements from either Iger or Feige have been released.
On the surface it’s easy for the general consumer to look at this and say that it’s just a greedy millionaire suing a mega corporation but this could have far reaching ramifications. If Disney is willing to breach a contract and deny one of the biggest stars in the world the money she’s owed, then what’s to stop them from doing this to a smaller creator?
This could also set a precedent with other companies. For example, Warner Bros releasing their films on HBOMax for no extra cost (same day as in theaters) has forecasted doom for Dune at the box office. Perhaps what Johansson is doing could embolden Denis Villeneuve to demand the money he would have gotten had the movie had an exclusive theatrical run (of course depending on the verbiage of that contract or renegotiations).
So far during these unprecedented times, F9: The Fast Saga seems to be the exception and not the rule. That could be because Universal gave it an exclusive theatrical release, or it could just have been a random fluke. The narrative of what is a “flop” is going to have to change as we once again enter unprecedented times, that’s for sure.
One thing is certain, if studios insist on releasing major tentpole movies, the filmmakers and stars need to get the proper compensation