After more than a year of delays, Marvel's Black Widow finally made its debut on July 9 not only in theaters but also on Disney+ Premier Access.
Despite Black Widow being the MCU's first Phase 4 film, Scarlett Johansson's long-awaited solo story for Natasha Romanoff was a prequel that followed the events of 2016's Captain America: Civil War.
While there was speculation that the film lacked relevancy to the MCU's current direction, Black Widow made $215 million in theaters and on Disney+ in its opening weekend before a significant drop in its second.
Now, less than a month after its release, Black Widow and its box office haul have made headlines again but for a very different reason.
DISNEY DISMISSES BLACK WIDOW LAWSUIT
Earlier today, news broke that Black Widow's Scarlett Johansson had filed a lawsuit against the Walt Disney Company due to a breach in contract over the theatrical film's same-day release on Disney+.
This is due to the fact that Johansson's salary was mostly based on the film's box office performance and that her agreement with Marvel guaranteed an exclusive theatrical release.
It's estimated that Disney's decision to release the film on Disney+ Premier Access cost the actress an estimated $50 million.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, a Disney spokesperson has now responded to Johansson's lawsuit allegations and claiming that "there is no merit whatsoever:"
“There is no merit whatsoever to this filing. The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic."
While Black Widow was originally slated to release in May 2020. The pandemic led Disney to push the film back to November 6, 2020, and then May 7, 2021, before finally settling on July 9, 2021.
In Disney's response, the company also claimed that the Disney+ Premier Access of $30 "significantly enhanced" Scarlett Johansson's "ability to earn additional compensation:"
"Disney has fully complied with Ms. Johansson’s contract and furthermore, 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.”
DOES JOHANSSON HAVE A CASE AGAINST DISNEY?
Black Widow's rollout has been such a unique situation for such a unique time in Hollywood.
Due to the Black Widow's original May 2020 release, the film's marketing had begun before the pandemic. Back then, nothing but a theatrical run would've been expected for an MCU film.
It's possible that the terms actors and studio heads are so familiar with now in regard to streaming versus theatrical didn't exist then, and that may be why Disney feels so confident in their rather brutal response to Johansson's allegations.
Also, Black Widow may be the first and only Marvel film to be released in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access since Marvel's Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Eternals, and Spider-Man: No Way Home are being marketing as theatrical releases only.
While Johansson may have a case and is within her rights to speak out about Disney ignoring her terms with Marvel Studios, there are a few things that could work against her.
For instance, her alleging that Disney sacrificed box office numbers to grow Disney+ subscriptions — while a likely possibility — is difficult to prove from a legal standpoint.
In addition, Disney can point to the fact that they delayed the film multiple times to achieve the best box office performance.
Regardless, Disney at odds with Scarlett Johansson doesn't bode well for her continuing to work under the Disney umbrella.
However, her actions do set a precedent for how other actors, directors, and creatives may respond to studios as they continue to navigate the new world of streaming and adjusting to how audiences are choosing to consume new content.