'Black Widow.'
Source: Disney Plus

The Mouse Is in the Doghouse: Why Is Scarlett Johansson Suing Disney?

By

Jul. 29 2021, Published 3:18 p.m. ET

Actress Scarlett Johansson is no stranger to the film industry, and she's been involved with Disney's Marvel Entertainment for over a decade, playing super-spy Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow.

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However, after her solo flick Black Widow took a serious hit at the box office, it seems like not all is well between Scarlett and Disney. Reports of Scarlett filing a lawsuit against Disney have surfaced, so here's what we know about Scarlett Johansson suing Disney.

'Black Widow.'
Source: Disney Plus
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On July 29, 2021, Scarlett filed a lawsuit against Disney's Marvel Entertainment.

As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Scarlett Johansson has filed a lawsuit against Disney's Marvel Entertainment in Los Angeles Superior Court. In the suit, she alleges that Disney breached her contract when Black Widow was released on Disney Plus in addition to being released in theaters. Scarlett's contract revolves around an exclusive theatrical release, and her salary is dictated by the box office performance, not the streaming performance.

Black Widow's second week at the box office took a significant hit thanks to Disney Plus's streaming, sliding 67 percent down from its opening weekend. This disastrous decline is the worst drop of any Marvel movie since Disney acquired Marvel in 2009. This performance disappointed the company and, it seems, Ms. Johansson.

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'Black Widow.'
Source: Disney Plus

The suit reads, "Disney intentionally induced Marvel’s breach of the agreement, without justification, to prevent Ms. Johansson from realizing the full benefit of her bargain with Marvel." Another part of the suit mentions that, much like many other Hollywood studios navigating theatrical releases during the pandemic, Scarlett attempted to renegotiate her contract after learning Disney would release Black Widow on Disney Plus.

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The suit declares that Disney and Marvel were unresponsive to her team's attempts to renegotiate. The Wall Street Journal also alleges that the loss Scarlett is facing amounts to more than $50 million. Before the pandemic, Scarlett's team was concerned about Black Widow ending up on Disney Plus, but Disney executives at the time assured her that wouldn't be the case.

'Black Widow.'
Source: Disney Plus
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A March 2019 email included in the lawsuit featured remarks by Marvel Chief Counsel Dave Galluzzi, who told Scarlett's team, "We understand that should the plan change, we would need to discuss this with you and come to an understanding as the deal is based on a series of (very large) box office bonuses."

Much to fans' dismay, Disney had been hesitant to release Black Widow simultaneously in theaters and to Disney Plus but eventually caved and announced in March 2021 that Black Widow would be dually released. The resulting figures included an $80 million opening in the U.S. and Canada and an additional $60 million in streaming the first weekend. Despite ticket sales at $319 million globally, Black Widow is one of Marvel's lowest-grossing films, thanks to streaming.

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'Black Widow.'
Source: Disney Plus

Disney responded to Scarlett's lawsuit with a scathing statement.

As quickly as Scarlett's lawsuit hit the internet, a Disney spokesperson fired back with equal speed. Their statement, per Variety, reads, "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."

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The statement also argued Scarlett had already received $20 million for her work on Black Widow, and the Disney Plus release of the film only "enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation." Disney did not comment on Scarlett's claim that they refused to renegotiate her contract.

This suit may change the landscape of film streaming services and pave the way for the future of streaming. Will Disney Plus remove the Premier Access fee once and for all? Or will they stop putting new releases on Disney Plus altogether? Only time will tell. 

Black Widow is now available for streaming on Disney Plus with Premier Access and in theaters.

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