Could this lawsuit change how movies are released on streaming platforms?
UPDATED: Scarlett Johansson filed a lawsuit Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court against Disney for breaching her contract by releasing her final Marvel movie Black Widow on its streaming service at the same time as its theatrical debut. Johansson’s contract with Disney’s Marvel Entertainment guaranteed an exclusive theatrical release and based her salary on the movie’s box-office performance.
Before the pandemic, Johansson expressed concerns that Black Widow could be released on Disney+ as well as a theatrical release. In 2019, Johansson’s representatives reached out to Marvel seeking assurance that Black Widow would have a theatrical-only release. Johansson’s representatives then attempted to renegotiate her contract after learning of the new day-and-date strategy for Black Widow during the pandemic, but Disney and Marvel were allegedly unresponsive. According to the Wall Street Journal, the decision to put the movie on Disney+ has cost Johansson more than $50 million.
On Black Widow’s opening weekend, the movie grossed $80 million domestically and $78 million internationally. Another $60 million from the $30 at-home purchases on Disney+ became the streaming services’ biggest release.
On Thursday night, Disney responded to the suit via a spokesperson, who said, "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."
Disney began releasing movies in theaters and on Disney+ as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic when theaters were closed. Disney was not the only streaming service to do this. WarnerMedia, which operates HBO Max, did the same with most of 2021's Warner Bros. movie releases. NBCUniversal released The Boss Baby: Family Business in theaters and on its streaming service, Peacock. Remember how the stars of A Quiet Place II demanded compensation when they were moved to Paramount+?
While major companies are prioritizing their streaming services to reach a wider audience, those changes create financial issues for actors and producers. This lawsuit could spur further change in how the entertainment industry will approach dual releases in the future.
What are your thoughts on day-and-date releases? Would you rather stay at home, or go to a theater? Let us know in the comments below!