In the United States, the film was released simultaneously in theatres and on Disney+’s Premier Access streaming service.
What was the reason?
Johansson claims that the hybrid release model violated her Black Widow contract in a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court. She contends that the streaming distribution drove away potential moviegoers and cost her pay based on box office receipts.
As theatres shuttered due to the epidemic, studios created the hybrid release strategy. For the release of Mulan, Raya, and The Last Dragon, Disney used this tactic successfully.
According to the lawsuit, the studio used a hybrid release for Black Widow to boost Disney+ memberships and compete with Netflix on its own territory.
In December 2020, Disney’s rival Warner Bros. stated that their full 2021 slate will be released simultaneously in theatres and on HBO Max.
What did Disney say?
The complaint was retaliated against by Disney, who said it had “no merit.” “In its callous disdain for the devastating and long-term worldwide impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the case is extremely tragic and heart-breaking.
“Disney has complied fully with Ms. Johansson’s contract, and the release of Black Widow on Disney+ with Premier Access has considerably increased her capacity to earn more money on top of the $20 million she has received to date,” the statement stated.
According to Disney, the actor was paid $20 million for his role as Black Widow. After a massive global opening (the biggest during the pandemic), the MCU film slowed down significantly.
It grossed $319.45 million worldwide after its July 9 premiere.
According to a story in the Wall Street Journal, individuals close to Johansson claim that the hybrid film cost her nearly $50 million (about Rs 370 crore) in lost bonuses.
“Why would Disney risk hundreds of millions of dollars in box office earnings by releasing the film in theatres when it knew the market was ‘weak,’ rather than waiting a few months for it to recover?
According to the lawsuit, “the decision to do so was made at least in part because Disney saw an opportunity to promote its flagship subscription service using the Picture and Ms. Johansson, thereby attracting new paying monthly subscribers, retaining existing subscribers, and establishing Disney+ as a must-have service in an increasingly competitive marketplace,” according to The Holly.
Despite its aggressive tone, Disney’s statement suggests Scarlett could earn more money in addition to her salary: “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 $20 million she has received to date.”
According to THR, Warner Bros. had to pay almost $200 million in compensation to actresses and filmmakers such as Gal Gadot, Patty Jenkins, and Will Smith for the Wonder Woman sequel.
What does this lawsuit signify?
The case isn’t just about Johansson or Disney. It has ramifications for the whole entertainment industry, as well as the larger theatrical vs. streaming issue.
Many directors are concerned that the theatre model, which was never strong to begin with, is now facing a slow and painful death as a result of the pandemic. Christopher Nolan had expressed surprise and disbelief following the WB’s decision.
“In 2021, they’ve got some of the best filmmakers in the world, they’ve got some of the biggest stars in the world who worked for years on these projects that are very important to their hearts and are supposed to be big-screen experiences,” he told ETOnline.
They’re supposed to be out there for as many people as possible… and now they’re being utilized as a loss-leader for the streaming service — for the fledgling streaming service — without anyone’s permission.”