Watch out Disney. Black Widow is coming after you with her web of venomous legal filings and lawyers! Full disclosure: I've never seen a single Marvel movie, so I have no idea if Black Widow spits webs or venom or if the character is even spider related… I don't know if she's a hero or a villain… I'm guessing hero? I'm also not even totally sure that Scarlett Johansson plays the Black Widow character. For all I know she plays a detective who is trying to capture Black Widow… and I refuse to Google it.
Whatever the case, according Scarlett, there's one true villain in this saga:
And what did Disney do to earn villain status? They made "Black Widow" available to stream on the same day as its theatrical release, therefore cutting off her ability to earn tens of millions in backend bonuses.
On Thursday, Scarlett Johansson filed a lawsuit against Disney. Sclarlett claims that her original contract with Disney's subsidiary, Marvel Entertainment, guaranteed the movie would be exclusively released in theaters.
Why does this matter?
Because, in addition to receiving $20 million in upfront salary, Scarlett's contract entitled her to additional earnings based on various theatrical revenue milestones. According to a person familiar with the details of her contract who spoke with the Wall Street Journal anonymously, the decision to put the movie on Disney+ cost Scartlett…
If this anonymous person is correct, that's $50 million outside of her $20 million salary. In other words, Scarlett Johansson expected to make $70 million off this one movie.
Box Office Performance
And to be clear, Disney did not make "Black Widow" available for free on Disney+. The movie cost $30 on the streaming platform.
In its first weekend "Black Widow" grossed $160 million globally in theaters and generated an additional $60 million from streaming purchases. As of this writing the global box office revenue stands at $320 million. Updated streaming purchase numbers have not been disclosed.
Scarlett believes that releasing to Disney+ disincentivized people from going to theaters in general.
Furthermore, if a movie ticket costs $10, any time more than three people watched the movie in a single viewing from home, Disney and Scarlett lost money. And presumably many families and groups of friends gathered at home in groups of 4 or more to watch the movie.
In another theory, it's believed that making the movie available on Disney+ made people less likely to see the movie in theaters after opening weekend. And in fact, the domestic box office numbers fell nearly 70% in the second weekend. That's the largest second weekend decline of any Marvel movie. Though to be fair, the average Marvel movie declines around 50% in the second weekend.
According to the lawsuit, when Scarlett's agents at CAA found out about the dual-release strategy, they attempted to renegotiate her contract and apparently those overtures were not successful. The lawsuit alleges that these negotiations were actually kicked off as far back as early 2019 (well before COVID). She claims that high-level Disney executives, including former CEO Bob Iger, had bonus incentives tied to the success of Disney+ and that they were willing to do anything to juice subscriber numbers, even renege on her iron-clad, theatrical release contract.
In a statement, Disney responded that the lawsuit:
"has no merit and is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. We 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."
That statement actually exacerbated the problem.
In a highly unusual move, one CAA's co-chairmen and managing partners, Bryan Lourd, released a statement of his own attacking Disney for attacking Scarlett in their press release. Lourd was particularly upset that Disney put her salary out in a press release and tried to paint her as someone who is insensitive to the COVID pandemic.
Here's Bryan's response:
"[Disney has] shamelessly and falsely accused Ms. Johansson of being insensitive to the global Covid pandemic [and] included her salary in their press statement in an attempt to weaponize her success as an artist and businesswoman, as if that were something she should be ashamed of… An attack on her character is beneath the company that many of us in the creative community have worked with successfully for decades…. They have very deliberately moved the revenue stream and profits to the Disney+ side of the company, leaving artistic and financial partners out of their new equation. That's it, pure and simple."
When all the lawsuits are said and done, there's one thing I can definitely guarantee: I will not be seeing this movie. Not in a theater, at home, on a plane, on a train…