With the pandemic seeing cinemas suffer temporary closures all over the world, Hollywood studios were faced with the task of figuring out how to still get eyeballs on their content and, more importantly, keep people entertained during extended lockdowns.
The answer, it seemed, lay in streaming services, with many studios choosing to simultaneously release titles in cinemas that were open and on the relevant streaming platform.
However, Johansson’s complaint says Disney sacrificed the movie’s box office potential in order to grow its streaming service — which affected her own backend profit.
Disney responded to the complaint in a statement saying, “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.”
Black Widow — which explores the origin story of Natasha Romanoff— was released on July 7 after multiple pandemic-induced delays. For those who were unable to see it on the big screen, the option existed to view it on Disney + for USD$30.
The film subsequently generated $USD60 million through Disney+ purchases, according to Disney.
According to Johannson’s complaint, Black Widow had been guaranteed a wide theatrical release when she signed her deal with Marvel, but Disney interfered with the deal for their own advantage.
The complaint argues, “Why would Disney forgo hundreds of millions of dollars in box office receipts by releasing the Picture in theatres at a time when it knew the theatrical market was ‘weak,’ rather than waiting a few months for that market to recover?”
“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.”
Black Widow, which has been positively reviewed by critics, was directed by Australian filmmaker Cate Shortland, with Johannson telling the press that “no one else” could have made the movie.
“She was interested in the parts of Natasha that I was interested in,” she told Variety. “She would probably say something like, ‘All her messy bits!’ or something like that. She loves to examine all the flaws of a character, or the perceived flaws of a character — their insecurities. And she was so interested to pull apart this woman, you know?”
She added, “It couldn’t have been done with anybody else.”