Fans have wanted to see the Black Widow movie for a long time. They had to wait for a long time to see it because it kept getting delayed due to the pandemic. But finally, the movie was released in July 2021 simultaneously in theaters and on the Disney+ streaming service.
Now, this wasn’t the first movie that was getting this hybrid release. Movies like Raya and the Last Dragon were also given the same treatment. On the other camp, WB opted for such a hybrid release model for most of their 2021 movie slate as well.
Black Widow cost $200 million to make, but it performed well in its opening weekend, both at the box office and on the streaming platform. It was able to generate $60 million in Disney+ sales alone. However, the movie didn’t seem to have legs. This means that the movie pretty much tanked in the second week itself. And there hasn’t been much talk about it since then.
The subsequent weeks were even worse for the Black Widow movie, as it was criticized by fans, and many thought that it didn’t live up to its hype. However, it can’t be denied that Covid-19 played a big role in how bad its box office numbers are. But Black Widow wasn’t the only movie to get affected by this.
The entire film industry has been badly impacted, and this has triggered discussions about whether the future of film is in movie theaters or streaming services. Many think that the alternative is actually a mixed model, and that’s what many production houses are trying to achieve by releasing movies both in theaters and on their streaming services.
It should be noted that some tentpole projects like Pixar’s Luca and Soul, which would normally have been released in theaters, were instead available only on streaming services. Also, they were available to subscribers at no extra cost.
Till now, no one had anything to say about Disney experimenting with the release model with its big projects. But now, one of its biggest stars is suing the house of mouse for this decision.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Scarlett Johansson, star of Marvel Studios’ recently released Black Widow movie, filed a lawsuit on Thursday, July 29, 2021, at the Los Angeles Superior Court against Walt Disney Co.
Johansson alleges that her contract was breached when the house of mouse decided to release her solo movie on its Disney+ streaming service at the same time when it was debuting theatrically.
This is a contract breach because her original agreement with Disney’s Marvel Entertainment/Marvel Studios guaranteed an exclusive theatrical release. As such, there was nothing in her original contract that said that the movie was going to be released on the streaming service as well.
It should be noted that Black Widow was the only movie from Marvel studios that has been given a hybrid release. The next film on its slate- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is still slated to be only theatrical release. It’s expected to debut on September 3, 2021.
But her issue isn’t just about the release model. It’s also the fact that her salary was mostly based on the box-office performance of the movie. And so, releasing it on their streaming service has severely hampered the amount that she could have received.
This is what the suit alleges:
“Disney intentionally induced Marvel’s breach of agreement” to prevent Scarlett Johansson “from realizing the full benefit of her bargain with Marvel.”
A source close to Wall Street Journal said that Disney’s decision to release the black Widow movie on their streaming service Disney+ cost Johansson a whopping estimated $50 million.
Johansson is represented by John Berlinkski, an attorney at Kasokitz Benson Torres LLP. And he has said 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…”
Right now according to the information given, Scarlett Johansson seems to be in the right. Even though Covid-19 has thrown the entire film industry into disarray, but that surely cannot be an excuse to not honor or at least renegotiate contracts.
However, it needs to be remembered that no one besides the people involved in this case knows exactly what’s at play. Not to mention the fact that there could be other factors affecting the situation behind the scenes as well on both sides.
As Johansson’s attorney mentioned, this is definitely going to be far from the last case of stars or even companies suing studios for contact breaches. After all, even though the decisions might be taken while adapting to the pandemic era landscape, but that’s no excuse to not follow established contracts.
Last year Warner brothers made a drastic announcement- that all of its major 2021 releases would be premiering on HBO Max as well as in theaters. This drew the ire of their talents, theater owners, and more. Some companies and directors even refused to work with the studio as well.
However, things didn’t go as far as someone suing the company because WB was able to sort out its client issues satisfactorily. Or at least to an extent that prevented them from getting sued. However, overall, the game is entirely different in this pandemic. And so, it will surely be interesting to see what happens when the dust settles from this feud.
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