Friday 30 July 2021 8:53 am

Scarlett Johansson sues Disney over Black Widow streaming release

Scarlett Johansson is suing Disney over its decision to release new superhero blockbuster Black Widow on its streaming platform.

The actor, who stars in the new Marvel thriller, alleges that the media giant breached her contract when it offered the film on Disney Plus at the same time as in cinemas.

Disney said there was “no merit” to the lawsuit and that it had complied with her contract.

It added that the streaming release of Black Widow had “significantly enhanced her [Johansson’s] ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20m she has received to date”.

The complaint, filed in Los Angeles, argued that the dual release had reduced her compensation, which was partly based on box office receipts from what was supposed to be an exclusive run in cinemas.

Black Widow was released in cinemas earlier this month and was also made available for a $30 additional charge on Disney Plus.

Disney has been trialling the release method for some of its films since the outbreak of the pandemic led to widespread cinema closures.

Johanssen’s lawsuit claims the company wanted to steer audiences towards its platform “where it could keep the revenues for itself while simultaneously growing the Disney Plus subscriber base, a proven way to boost Disney’s stock price”.

“Second, Disney wanted to substantially devalue Ms. Johansson’s agreement and thereby enrich itself,” it added.

The film star is seeking unspecified damages to be determined at trial.

Disney said the lawsuit was “especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the Covid-19 pandemic”.

The legal battle could have major ramifications for Hollywood and streaming services as studios and platforms grapple with new ways of releasing films to boost viewer numbers and lure new subscribers.

Other companies have negotiated payments to actors in films that were originally planned for cinemas but were released on streaming platforms during the pandemic.

Black Widow, which tells the story of a Russian assassin turned Avenger, pulled in $80m at US and Canadian box offices in its opening weekend. Johanssen has played the character in nine Marvel films.

The film also generated $60m through Disney Plus purchases, the company said.