At the end of July, we reported that Scarlett Johansson sued Disney for not upholding their commitments regarding the theatrical release of the film Black Widow. The lawsuit alleged that Disney breached Marvel’s agreement with Johansson that guaranteed Black Widow a theatrical-only release, as the majority of the actress’ salary from the superhero film was tied to box office gross.
After months of Disney losing the case in the court of public opinion and after waging a bit of a social media war against her, the two parties have apparently made peace with each other and are looking forward to working with each other in the future.
And it didn’t take Black Widow’s dual batons, a pair of Glock 26s or the Black Widow’s Bite—bracelets that discharge electricity, for Johansson to win.
Both Scarlett Johansson and Disney released separate statements confirming the agreement without disclosing the details. Johansson said in her statement that she was “happy to have resolved our differences. I’m incredibly proud of the work we’ve done together over the years and have greatly enjoyed my creative relationship with the team,” she said. “I look forward to continuing our collaboration in years to come.”
Disney Studios chairman Alan Bergman added: “I’m very pleased that we have been able to come to a mutual agreement with Scarlett Johansson regarding Black Widow. We appreciate her contributions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and look forward to working together on a number of upcoming projects, including Disney’s Tower of Terror.”
The lawsuit argued that Johansson was promised by Marvel Studios, which is owned by Disney, that Black Widow would be a “theatrical release”. She said she had understood this to mean a “window” of time would pass before it would be streamed, a period that has traditionally lasted 90 days.
Johansson argued that the streaming release cannibalized the theatrical gross, and violated her contract. Disney also released Jungle Cruise and Cruella concurrently in theaters and on Disney Plus premier access.
At the time Disney very publicly denounced her lawsuit saying that “there is no merit whatsoever to this filing.” The studio added at the time that the company “fully complied with Ms. Johansson’s contract and furthermore, the release of Black Widow on Disney+ with Premier Access (for $29.99) has significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20 million she has received to date.”
They went on to attempt to shame her for asking for compensation for Disney breaking their agreement by saying, “The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Johansson’s cause received support within the industry, with talent and executives including Marvel’s Kevin Feige, Jamie Lee Curtis, Marvel’s WandaVision star Elizabeth Olsen, and mogul Jason Blu all speaking out on her behalf.
While Johansson and Disney publicly fought it out, Warner Bros., which released its entire 2021 slate with the same hybrid model, quietly paid out handsome sums to compensate its stars for lost backend revenue and preemptively avoided any similar issues.
Black Widow, which debuted on July 9 in theaters and for a $29.99 fee for “premier access” on Disney+, has grossed more than $378 million in worldwide theater receipts and $184 domestic, according to Box Office Mojo. Disney revealed in a filing in August that Black Widow had grossed $125 million on streaming.
Of course, if you compare the “experimental” exclusive theatrical release of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings for a 45 day window, the film has exceeded Black Widow’s domestic box office performance by $16 million, earning $199 million in domestic sales to date, which arguably isn’t a HUGE amount, but it is telling and without going back in time, there’s no way of knowing if Black Widow would have surpassed Shang-Chi had the movie been given the exclusive theatrical release Scarlett Johansson was originally promised.
During the pandemic, several big Hollywood studios opted to bypass cinemas, many of which had been closed, and release films online instead.
Now that most cinemas have reopened, Disney had originally chosen to maintain a dual release strategy for their major films, however, the unbridled box office success of Shang-Chi and the Johansson lawsuit have forced them to change their strategy and are now planning to release more films exclusively in theaters.