Scarlett Johansson is taking on her most ambitious villain yet: none other than Disney, the entertainment behemoth that distributed Black Widow. On Thursday, the Marvel film’s titular star filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court accusing Disney of breaching her contract, which stipulated that Black Widow would first be released exclusively in theaters.
In the end, Disney simultaneously made the film available for purchase on the Disney+ Premier platform for $30, or about double the price of a movie ticket. But because box office performance reportedly figured largely into Johansson’s compensation, the move to expand Black Widow’s audience reportedly ended up costing the 36-year-old actor—to the tune of a whopping $50 million. (At least, that’s what a source familiar with her contract told the Wall Street Journal.)
It’s no secret that Black Widow underperformed in theaters, even though its $80-million domestic opening weekend marked an all-time high for pandemic-era domestic releases. And while Disney+ made the film another $60 million, that total is still hardly up to Marvel standards. The following weekend saw sales drop 67 percent, marking the worst decline since Disney began distributing Marvel films in 2009. A little over a week ago, 11 days after its release, the Washington Post reported that Black Widow might ultimately replace 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger as the domestically lowest-grossing Marvel film ever.
“Without justification,” the lawsuit alleges, Disney “intentionally induced” Marvel to break the agreement seeking to prevent Johansson from “realizing the full benefit of her bargain with Marvel.” Johansson’s lawyer, John Berlinski, echoed those sentiments, asserting that “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.” Disney has yet to publicly respond.
The ambitious lawsuit comes complete with receipts, including an email from Marvel Chief Counsel Dave Galluzzi. “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,” he wrote in March of 2019. That would of course be before the pandemic, which is part of why Disney has increasingly opted for simultaneous streaming and theatrical releases—an approach that also helps boost Disney +, which launched in November of 2019.
Whether or not Disney comes through with the undisclosed sum, Johansson has already moved on. Per the lawsuit, Black Widow is not only her ninth Marvel film, but also her last.
Update: According to IndieWire, Disney has now struck back, claiming that Johansson’s lawsuit is “sad and distressing” in no uncertain terms.