Disney Fires Back at Scarlett Johansson, Calls ‘Black Widow’ Lawsuit ‘Sad and Distressing’

Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) in
Courtesy of Marvel Studios

The Walt Disney Company clapped back at “Black Widow” star Scarlett Johansson, slamming the actress’ breach of contract lawsuit for showing “callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In a court filing on Thursday, Johansson said Disney’s decision to send the Marvel movie to Disney Plus at the same time it was released in theaters cost her millions of dollars in backend compensation. Those bonuses were tied to hitting box office benchmarks that “Black Widow” likely won’t achieve. Disney is countering that it complied with the terms of Johansson’s deal to star in the Avengers spinoff film.

“There is no merit whatsoever to this filing,” Disney said in an unusually fiery statement. “The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The company went on to state that the star has already received $20 million for her work and argued that “the release of ‘Black Widow’ on Disney+ with Premier Access has significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20M she has received to date.” Disney did not provide any information about whether or not Johansson’s pact was renegotiated so that she could share in streaming rental revenue.

In March, Disney announced that “Black Widow” and several of its 2021 films such as “Cruella” and “Jungle Cruise” would premiere on the studio’s subscription-based streaming service at the same time they hit theaters. Those movies were made available for a $30 rental fee to Disney Plus subscribers. The studio positioned the move as a concession to the damage COVID-19 had inflicted on the theatrical distribution landscape.

On July 9, “Black Widow” set a pandemic-era box office record with a $80 million in North America. It earned an additional $78 million overseas and $60 million on Disney Plus. Despite those impressive numbers, ticket sales steeply declined in subsequent weeks and the pic’s gross currently stands at $319 million globally. Given that many Marvel movies top $1 billion at the worldwide box office, “Black Widow” is on pace to become one of the company’s lowest-grossing releases.

“It’s no secret that Disney is releasing films like ‘Black Widow’ directly onto Disney Plus to increase subscribers and thereby boost the company’s stock price — and that it’s hiding behind COVID-19 as a pretext to do so,” John Berlinski, an attorney for Johansson, said in a statement to Variety. “But ignoring the contracts of the artists responsible for the success of its films in furtherance of this short-sighted strategy violates their rights and we look forward to proving as much in court. 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.”

As Berlinski suggests, Johansson’s lawsuit could impact the way that movie stars are compensated in the streaming era and may inspire a wave of fresh legal action by actors upset that their films are not exclusively debuting in theaters.