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Scarlett Johansson Is Suing Disney For Its Streaming Release Of 'Black Widow'

Jul 29, 2021
Originally published on July 29, 2021 6:26 pm

Updated July 29, 2021 at 6:00 PM ET

Scarlett Johansson is suing the Walt Disney Co. for releasing her movie Black Widow on streaming and in theaters at the same time.

Black Widow opened in theaters two weeks ago to the biggest box office numbers of the coronavirus pandemic: $80 million on its opening weekend.

After the first weekend, the numbers fell off a cliff. Industry observers suggest that one reason attendance fell so quickly is that Disney had screened the film simultaneously on Disney+, allowing audiences to bypass theaters and watch it at home.

Johannsson is the film's star and also its executive producer. She says in her lawsuit — which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal — that her agreement with Disney's Marvel Entertainment guaranteed an exclusive theatrical release and based her salary in part on the film's box office performance.

Disney responds that the lawsuit has no merit

A Disney spokesperson responded, according to Entertainment Weekly, by saying that 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."

With the pandemic scrambling Hollywood's release patterns, the exclusive theatrical opening — long the industry norm — has lately been threatened.

A few big films — F9, for instance, and the upcoming 007 movie No Time to Die — delayed their premieres so they could go the traditional route. Others, like Pixar's Soul, bypassed theaters entirely and went straight to streaming.

WarnerMedia, to boost its streaming service HBO Max, is releasing all of its titles this year simultaneously in cinemas and on HBO Max. But it renegotiated many of its talent contracts to do so, reportedly paying stars and directors more than $200 million.

Johansson's complaint says her representatives tried to renegotiate her contract but Disney and Marvel were unresponsive.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

And now to actor Scarlett Johansson. She is the star of the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe hit "Black Widow," and she's suing the Walt Disney Company for releasing the film in theaters and on its streaming service at the same time. NPR's Bob Mondello has the details.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: "Black Widow" opened in theaters two weeks ago to the biggest box office numbers of the pandemic - $80 million its opening weekend.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BLACK WIDOW")

FLORENCE PUGH: (As Yelena Belova) You got a plan? Or shall I just stay duck and cover?

SCARLETT JOHANSSON: (As Black Widow) My plan was to drive us away.

PUGH: (As Yelena Belova) Well, your plan sucks.

MONDELLO: After the opening weekend, the numbers fell off a cliff. Industry observers suggest that one reason attendance fell so quickly is that Disney had screened the film simultaneously on Disney+, allowing audiences to bypass theaters and watch it at home. Scarlett Johansson is the film's star and also its executive producer. She says in her lawsuit, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal, that her agreement with Disney's Marvel Entertainment guaranteed an exclusive theatrical opening and based her salary in part on the film's box office performance.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR ENGINE REVVING)

MONDELLO: Disney released a statement saying there was no merit whatsoever to Johansson's complaint and lamenting the lawsuit's quote, "callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic." The pandemic has scrambled Hollywood's release patterns. A few big films - "F9," for instance - delayed their premieres so they could go the traditional route. Others like Pixar's "Soul" bypassed theaters entirely and went straight to streaming. Warner Media, to boost its streaming service HBO Max, is releasing all of its titles this year simultaneously in cinemas and on HBO Max, but it renegotiated many of its talent contracts to do so, reportedly paying stars and directors more than $200 million. Johansson's complaint says that her representatives tried to renegotiate her contract but that Disney and Marvel were unresponsive.

Bob Mondello, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.