The Scarlett Johansson v. Disney Black Widow Lawsuit Enters Round 2

The Scarlett Johansson v. Disney Black Widow Lawsuit Enters Round 2
Currently, Disney's lawyers are taking aim at Scarlett Johansson and her lawsuit. (Image: Marvel Studios)

The latest round in the battle between longtime Marvel Cinematic Universe star Scarlett Johansson and Marvel Studios parent company Disney began this weekend, when Disney’s lawyers filed a motion to put the dispute over Black Widow’s profits in private arbitration rather than have a public trial.

Johansson’s lawsuit, as you’ll recall, alleges that Marvel promised that Black Widow would have a theatrical-only release, but that Disney forced the studio to make the film available on Disney+ on the same day as its theatrical release. Johansson’s lawyer say this not only cannibalised the movie’s box office profits, costing the actor millions in bonuses, but was in violation of her contract with Marvel.

Disney’s motion refutes this, of course, and offers some contract specifics (courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter): “Disney says that Black Widow was put on more than 9,000 screens in the U.S., allegedly satisfying its obligation the film screen on no less than 1,500 (again, Johansson asserts it had to be exclusive), and according to the latest filing, as of Aug. 15, Black Widow has grossed more than $US367 ($506) million in worldwide box-office receipts and more than $US125 ($172) million in streaming and download retail receipts.

“Disney compares the Black Widow release to other films in the Marvel canon, saying that the opening weekend take was ‘more than that of many other Marvel Cinematic Universe films, including Thor: The Dark World; Ant-Man; Ant-Man and the Wasp; and Guardians of the Galaxy.’”

That’s true, but it also ignores the massive, abnormal drop in attendance Black Widow experienced between weeks one and two of its release, which saw the $US80 ($110) million opening weekend profits fall to just $US26.3 ($36) million. Johansson’s lawyers assert Disney put the highly anticipated Black Widow movie on Disney+ to drive subscribers to its streaming service rather than build its box office, and several theatre owner associations have also accused Disney of the same motive.

The particulars of Johansson’s Marvel contract haven’t been revealed yet, so we can’t know if Disney honoured it properly. However, given that Disney, immediately upon being sued, tried to publicly shame Johansson by announcing her $US20 ($28) million base payday for the film and basically accusing her of not caring about the pandemic, it feels unlikely Disney is going to come out of this smelling like a rose. The fact that the company wants to move the suit to private arbitration inside of a trial might speak to that, but to be fair, Disney has stated this is also part of her contact.

However, to be fair to Johansson, Disney has a long, long, long history of trying to pay the people who have made the company worth $US122 ($168) billion as little as possible. So good for the Black Widow, like another female Marvel hero, for knowing her worth.