Marvel’s Black Widow was released several weeks ago in theaters and on Disney+, and has enjoyed a moderately successful opening, especially during the pandemic. But its positive reception wasn’t enough to appease star Scarlett Johansson since, according to a lawsuit filed against The Walt Disney Co. in Los Angeles Superior Court, that strategy breached her contract. According to The Hollywood Reporter, a wide theatrical release for the film was guaranteed, and the simultaneous release amounts to “tortious interference” by Disney with that deal.
The complaint directly addresses the likely lost revenue and prioritization of Disney+. It reads: “Why would Disney forgo hundreds of millions of dollars in box office receipts by releasing the Picture in theatres at a time when it knew the theatrical market was ‘weak,’ rather than waiting a few months for that market to recover? On information and belief, the decision to do so was made at least in part because Disney saw the opportunity to promote its flagship subscription service using the Picture and Ms. Johansson, thereby attracting new paying monthly subscribers, retaining existing ones, and establishing Disney+ as a must-have service in an increasingly competitive marketplace.”
Black Widow is the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase Four slate. It was originally announced for May 1st, 2020 before being pushed multiple times and finally released on July 9th, 2021. We reported back in March that, along with another major Disney release, Cruella, it would premiere on the same day in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access, which commands a separate $29.99 fee. In an unusual move, Disney released the Disney+ revenue for Black Widow, which apparently amounts to $60 million.
This concept of day-and-date releases has been met with controversy, and this type of situation will only continue to come up considering that Warner Bros. is taking that approach for its entire slate in 2021, including its next big movie, The Suicide Squad, which debuts in theaters and on HBO Max next Friday. That plan has resulted in WarnerMedia and Warner Bros. needing to pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million to stars and directors including Patty Jenkins, Gal Gadot, and Will Smith.