Scarlett Johansson has sued Disney for breach of contract after Disney streamed her movie Black Widow on Disney+ at the same time it was released in movie theatres.

Though Black Widow set a box office record for the pandemic, earning a total of $218 million during its first weekend. Box office receipts, however, fell significantly leading Johansson to say that she was deprived of possible earnings.

Disney said they had “fully complied” with the actress’s contract and argued that her case had “no merit whatsoever.”

Johansson said Marvel Studios – which is owned by Disney – promised her that her film, Black Widow, would be a “theatrical release.” This led her to believe that there would be a “window” of time before it was available to stream on Disney+.

Throughout the pandemic, several Hollywood studios decided not to release films in movie theatres, as many were closed and released their films through streaming services instead.

The majority of cinemas have reopened, and Disney, along with Warner Bros, has decided to maintain a dual-release plan for their major films.

On the first weekend of release, Black Widow earned about $80 million in ticket sales in North America and $78 million internationally. Additionally, the film earned about $60 million in the Disney+ Premiere Access rentals.

Johansson’s salary was based on the box office performance of the film; according to media reports, she lost $50 million.

Disney argued that the dual release “significantly enhanced [Johanssson’s] ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20m she has received to date.”

A statement said her legal action was “especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.” As a result, Johansson’s agent accused Disney of “shamelessly” attempting to taint her character.

“Scarlett has been Disney’s partner on nine movies, which have earned Disney and its shareholders billions,” wrote Bryan Lourd in a statement. “The company included her salary in their press statement in an attempt to weaponize her success as an artist and businesswoman, as if that were something she should be ashamed of.”

“Disney’s direct attack on her character and all else they implied is beneath the company that many of us in the creative community have worked with successfully for decades,” he said.

Before COVID-19, Hollywood film fans would usually have to watch new releases in movie theatres exclusively or wait three months for the films to become available in streaming services.

Major studios have been using different strategies to release films as movie theatres struggle to regain their viewers who are cautious about confined spaces due to the virus.

This method does sit well with the industry’s leading talents, including The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan. Last year, he said that Warner Bros plans to release major films on HBO Max was “a real bait and switch.”

“Warner Bros had an incredible machine for getting a film-maker’s work out everywhere, both in theatres and in the home, and they are dismantling it as we speak,” he told the Hollywood Reporter. “Their decision makes no economic sense and even the most casual Wall Street investor can see the difference between disruption and dysfunction.”

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