Black Widow might have been trying to have the character of Natasha Romanoff go out on a high note, but that won't be the case when it comes to actress Scarlett Johansson. While Disney and Marvel might present that everyone in the cast of Black Widow was okay with the hybrid release in both theaters and Disney+, it turns out that that very much was not the case. According to The Wall Street Journal, Johansson has filed a suit against Disney for breach of contract when they decided to release the movie in theaters and on streaming.
Ms. Johansson said in the suit that her agreement with Disney's Marvel Entertainment guaranteed an exclusive theatrical release, and her salary was based in large part on the box-office performance of the film.
"Disney intentionally induced Marvel's breach of the agreement, without justification, in order to prevent Ms. Johansson from realizing the full benefit of her bargain with Marvel," the suit said.
The article went on to say that Johansson tried to renegotiate the contract when the hybrid release was on the table for Black Widow but that "Disney and Marvel were unresponsive, the suit said." HBO Max and Warner Bros. did end up renegotiating contracts when they made the decision to bring all of their movies to a hybrid release. Johansson is the first Disney star to file a suit like this despite the fact that several high profile movies either got a hybrid release [Mulan, Raya and the Last Dragon, Cruella] or didn't get a theatrical release at all and only went to streaming [Soul, Luca].
"This will surely not be the last case where Hollywood talent stands up to Disney and makes it clear that, whatever the company may pretend, it has a legal obligation to honor its contracts," said John Berlinski, an attorney at Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP who represents Ms. Johansson.
This whole thing is much more complicated than anyone realizes. The pandemic is something that no one could have ever planned for, so no one ever thought that a hybrid release would be something anyone would have to write into a contract pre-2020. However, the suit apparently says that Johansson had concerned that Black Widow would end up on Disney+ in 2019 long before the pandemic was something we ever had to worry about.
In a March 2019 email included in the suit, Marvel Chief Counsel Dave Galluzzi said the release would be according to a traditional theatrical model, adding, "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."
This is still a breaking story, and, at the moment, Disney has not released a comment. Does this mean that other stars from the previously mentioned movies are going to file their own suits now that Johansson has become the first domino knocked down? We'll have to see, but there is no denying that from a sheer box office perspective, Black Widow underperformed. How much of that can be attributed to the hybrid release and not just to the pandemic is something that will likely be litigated in court.
Summary: Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, confronts the darker parts of her ledger when a dangerous conspiracy with ties to her past arises. Pursued by a force that will stop at nothing to bring her down, Natasha must deal with her history as a spy and the broken relationships left in her wake long before she became an Avenger.
Black Widow, directed by Cate Shortland, stars Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O. T. Fagbenle, Rachel Weisz, and Ray Winstone. It is currently set to be released on July 9, 2021, in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access.