The Legal Battle Between Scarlett Johansson and Disney


A look at the drama between Disney and Scarlett Johansson over the release of the new Marvel film, Black Widow

In early July, Marvel’s Black Widow was released. It was made available in both theaters and on Disney Plus. Scarlett Johansson, the lead actress in the film, filed a lawsuit against Walt Disney Co. a few weeks after the release of the movie, claiming that Disney breached the terms of her contract with them.

Johansson claims that when Disney, Marvel’s parent company, made Black Widow available on Disney Plus the same day it premiered in theaters, they violated her contract. She states that because the movie was released on Disney Plus, it cut into her pay for the movie. 

According to the Los Angeles Times, “for decades, top stars and filmmakers have made their fortunes by, yes, raking in significant salaries, but also by negotiating lucrative deals that could result in windfalls if their movies or shows were successful.”

These actors receive a cut of the movie’s profits, known as box-office bonuses or receipts, and it is generally a significant number.

Johansson’s complaint is that she lost millions of dollars, “as her compensation for the film was ‘based largely on ‘box office’ receipts,” according to Entertainment Weekly. Releasing the film on Disney Plus resulted in less profit from the box office, and therefore less profit for Johansson.

Disney filed a motion that argued that their contract with Johansson stated nothing about the distribution of the film. They agreed to show the movie on “no less than 1,500 screens.”

According to The Verge, “the motion states the film in fact debuted on more than 9,600 [screens] in the US and 30,000 plus screens worldwide.”

Disney also provided figures proving that Black Widow was bringing in a large turnout from the box office. As stated by The Verge, “as of August 15th, Black Widow has raked in more than $367 million in box office receipts worldwide.”

However, there is no way to know exactly how much profit there would have been if the movie wasn’t released on Disney Plus.

“[Disney knew] that Marvel’s [promise] to give Black Widow a typical theatrical release ‘like its other films’ had everything to do with guaranteeing that Disney wouldn’t cannibalize box office receipts in order to boost Disney Plus subscriptions. Yet that is exactly what happened — and we look forward to presenting the overwhelming evidence that proves it,” said Johansson’s attorney, Berlinski, in his statement.

This brings about the question: How can stars be compensated for films and TV shows now that the use of streaming services is at an all time high? Actors’ incomes have been intertwined with box office receipts for a long time, and with streaming services available it’s unclear as to how stars will receive the profits they desire.