Johansson’s lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, states that Black Widow was guaranteed a wide theatrical release when she signed her deal with Marvel Studios. According to her complaint, Disney interfered with that deal for its own advantage.
The complaint specifies: “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,”
The complaint says of the decision to release day and date both theatrically and on the streaming service Disney+:
“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.”
Disney has, to no ones surprise countered with a statement quoted at the Hollywood Reporter and Wall Street Journal:
“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.”
Yeah, box office is crap right now and with the resurging across the country of Covid-19 and the deadly Delta Variant there’s no doubt people are hesitant to return to the theaters. Yes, in many ways releasing it sooner than later on Disney+ makes some sense but they could have held it for a week or two but would that have made much difference? Even if they held it for a month you’re still going to have the people who have said for years things like “I don’t care, it will be on DVD in 2 months, I’ll wait for it..”
Now here comes the fine point of this suit alleging some Hollywood Accounting: The complaint makes specific note that Disney “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.”
In other words: They are saying that Disney saw a chance to move some of the money made from BLACK WIDOW from the Theatrical Box Office column and put it into the Online Streaming Service column thereby avoiding payouts / bonuses / percentages to Johansson and others that would be based on Box Office.
Rumor has it early on that Marvel Studio’s Kevin Feige is “Angry and embarrassed” by this.
According to the What I’m Hearing… newsletter from former Hollywood Reporter editor Matthew Belloni, Feige apparently lobbied Disney to keep Black Widow a theatrical-only release to not upset Johansson.
“Feige is a company man, and prone to corporate showdowns or shouting matches. But I’m told he’s angry and embarrassed,” Belloni says. “He lobbied Disney against the day-and-date plan for Black Widow, preferring the big screen exclusivity and not wanting to upset his talent.”
Furthermore, the report says that when “the shit hit the fan, the movie started tanking and Johansson’s team threatened litigation,” Feige tried to get Disney to “make this right with her.”
This looks like Disney CEO Bob Chapek has stepped into it big time.
So there goes any chance of cameos in flashbacks from Natasha Romanoff in any future Marvel film or TV project. There goes any chance of her promoting or doing press for any anniversary or special edition release of any of her Marvel films and there goes any chance of any of the other cast of any Marvel film doing a similar backend deal on future projects. It also makes many wonder how the rest of the Marvel family actors are reacting to this news.
There’s currently a vague rumor that Emma Stone may sue over a similar deal she had for the film CRUELLA.
I’m sure there’s more to come on this story and it’s only going to get uglier if Disney doesn’t back down and write a check.
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