Disney and Marvel Studios likely breathed a sigh of relief when Black Widow finally hit theaters last month. The release came after multiple substantial delays due to COVID, meaning we got it more than a year after it was meant to come out. But it seems that this movie isn’t done causing headaches at the Mouse House yet, as star Scarlett Johansson has hit them with a massive lawsuit that could cost them tens of millions of dollars.
At the root of it is Disney’s contract with Johansson, which stipulated that she’d get paid an upfront fee and a back-end deal in relation to the final box office haul. This has proved very lucrative for other high-profile MCU stars, with Robert Downey Jr walking away with approximately $75 million from Avengers: Endgame ($55 million of that from the back-end deal).
Black Widow was never going to do Endgame numbers, but when the contract was signed it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that it could crack the billion-dollar mark. Then COVID arrived and wreaked havoc on the global box office, resulting in Disney deciding to simultaneously release in theaters and on Disney Plus.
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That seems to have had a big impact on its performance. Black Widow suffered a catastrophic second-weekend drop, was heavily pirated, and looks set to round out its international box office at somewhere between $350-$370 million (it’s currently the second-lowest grossing MCU movie after 2008’s The Incredible Hulk). Streaming sales aren’t factored into those numbers (or into Johansson’s deal) so she’s estimated to lose out on around $50 million.
On the face of it, Disney is in the wrong here. The deal they signed with Johansson was based around an exclusive theatrical release and it seems clear that going digital simultaneously has affected Black Widow‘s performance, and subsequently her compensation. On the other hand, there’s a reasonable response that these back-end deals are a gamble (even if with an MCU movie it should be a safe bet) and that COVID forced Disney’s hand.
Right now a settlement looks unlikely, though I doubt Disney wants their streaming financials dragged out into the open for all to see. Watch this space.