Scarlett Johansson may have broken the seal on celebrity lawsuits in the streaming age. Rumors are now developing that “Cruella” lead Emma Stone may follow her example and sue Disney over its decision to dual debut her tentpole film.
As the Daily Wire reported on Friday, Johansson is suing Disney for releasing “Black Widow” to its streaming service, Disney Plus, at the same time as theaters. According to the Marvel star’s breach-of-contract suit, studio executives had promised her the film would have a theaters-only roll out, and a significant portion of her compensation was based on its performance at the box office. By simultaneously premiering the film on the video-on-demand platform, she claims Disney undercut her potential earnings.
Disney released Emma Stone’s most recent movie, “Cruella,” with the same hybrid approach even though it, too, was originally only intended for a theatrical release, meaning Stone may have the same grounds for a complaint.
Former Hollywood Reporter staffer and entertainment lawyer Matt Belloni revealed in his newsletter, “What I’m Hearing,” that inside sources are telling him the actress is speaking to her lawyers and “weighing her options.”
Johansson said in her suit that when she tried to renegotiate her contract to address the dual debut shift, Marvel and Disney were “unresponsive.” Belloni’s report seems to support that as he said sources tell him stars have found Disney “notoriously difficult to deal with” as the company made plans to redirect tentpole films to streaming.
Belloni claims Johansson is receiving an outpouring of support from other performers in her industry, saying, “There is an unusually high amount of cheering going on today in the talent community, which indicates these issues aren’t going away anytime soon,” he said.
Variety echoed this view in a report that quoted an unnamed agent who said, ‘A lot of other actors are cheering for Scarlett and rooting her on. She has a lot of power and that makes this a visible conversation that puts Disney on the spot. By doing all of this in public, she might be able to change the rulebook.’
Belloni speculated that “Jungle Cruise” actress Emily Blunt could soon add her voice to the chorus supporting Johansson. Just like “Black Widow” and “Cruella,” “Jungle Cruise” was originally destined for theaters alone and ended up with less-than-stellar earnings under the hybrid approach. The film took in a mediocre $34 million at the box office this weekend, meaning it may struggle to recoup Disney’s $200 million investment.
That may not bother Disney, as it is benefitting from additional subscribers who want to watch these new movies from the comfort of their homes. But there’s no benefit to the hybrid model for celebrities whose salaries are based on box office performance, something Johansson’s filing notes.
“To maximize these receipts, and thereby protect her financial interests, Ms. Johansson extracted a promise from Marvel that the release of the picture would be a ‘theatrical release,” her suit states. “As Ms. Johansson, Disney, Marvel, and most everyone else in Hollywood knows, a ‘theatrical release’ is a release that is exclusive to movie theatres. Disney was well aware of this promise, but nonetheless directed Marvel to violate its pledge and instead release the picture on the Disney+ streaming service the very same day it was released in movie theatres.”
She then went on to point out that Disney’s top executives scored big bonuses based on the streaming platform’s success.
Disney responded that there is “no merit whatsoever to [Johansson’s] filing.” The company added, “It is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
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