Over the weekend, The Walt Disney Company refuted allegations made by actress Scarlett Johansson last Thursday over the release of the new superhero film she stars in, Black Widow. According to the Los Angeles Superior Court complaint, Disney forced its subsidiary Marvel Studios to break the movie star’s agreement and release the film not only in theaters but also on Disney’s direct-to-consumer streaming service Disney+ on the same day.
In particular, Disney broke its promise to exclusively release Black Widow in theaters for a defined period, the filing said. Disney reportedly did so despite assurances from its chief legal counsel in May 2019, confirming the company’s understanding that the box office bonus component of the agreement represented the lion’s share of Johansson’s expected compensation, and that the theatrical release would be as extensive and as long as customary.
The complaint asserts that Disney not only undermined Johansson’s compensation to enrich itself, but also to “lure the Picture’s audience away from movie theatres and towards its owned streaming service, where it could keep the revenues for itself while simultaneously growing the Disney+ subscriber base, a proven way to boost Disney’s stock price.” The Los Angeles court filing quotes a news source that described Disney as having “‘cannibalized [the] box office,’” noting that an entire family could watch the film together at home for just $30, the price charged by Disney+ to watch a newly released film otherwise available only in theaters.
According to a Reuters article published on Saturday by Lisa Richwine, Disney claims that the lawsuit is meritless and that it complied with its contractual obligations. According to the news press, the studio claims the movie’s streaming platform release in fact bolstered Johansson’s earning ability on top of the $20 million she has reportedly received to date.
In her complaint, Johansson seeks relief from the alleged intentional interference with contractual relations and inducing breach of contract. She seeks damages, including punitive ones, and her attorneys’ fees and costs. The plaintiff is represented by Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP.