Disney CEO fires back at Scarlett Johansson's $50million lawsuit

Disney CEO fires back at Scarlett Johansson’s $50million lawsuit and defends ‘last minute calls’ to release movies to TV as she claims breach of contract over streaming release of Black Widow

  • ‘Certainly we didn’t anticipate the resurgence of COVID,’ Chapek said Thursday
  • He told reporters that Disney had ‘the right strategy’ to reach wide audience
  • Johansson, 36, sued Disney last month, alleging she lost out on $50 million
  • Black Widow was released on Disney+ at the same time as its release in theatres 

Disney CEO Bob Chapek has fired back at Scarlett Johansson to defend ‘last minute calls’ and ‘flexibility’ amid the pandemic after the actress sued the studio for $50 million over its streaming release of Black Widow.

‘We value flexibility in being able to make last-minute calls,’ Chapek told a Q3 earnings call on Thursday. ‘Certainly when we planned we didn’t anticipate the resurgence of COVID.’

Johansson, 36, sued Disney last month, alleging that she lost out on more than $50 million as a result of the film being released on streaming service Disney+ at the same time as its release in theatres.

The blonde bombshell claims her contract guaranteed that Black Widow would have an exclusive theatrical release, and that the bulk of her salary was based on the box office performance.

But Chapek on Thursday doubled-down on the ‘hybrid movie’ release, calling it ‘the right strategy to enable us to reach the broadest possible audience.’

The CEO added that ‘distribution decisions are made on a film-by-film basis. We will continue to utilize all options going forward.’ 

Disney CEO Bob Chapek (left) has fired back at Scarlett Johansson (right) to defend ‘last minute calls’ and ‘flexibility’ amid the pandemic after the actress sued the studio for $50 million over its streaming release of Black Widow 

Scarlett Johansson wearing Armani at the 26th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, Arrivals, Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, on January 19, 2020 

Last week, a lawyer for Disney Daniel Petrocelli slammed Johansson’s lawsuit as a ‘highly orchestrated’ PR stunt to force the studio ‘to write a check.’

Petrocelli suggested in comments to Variety that Disney would not bow to ‘public pressure’ and said the actress demands compensation far beyond that of her contract with the studio. 

‘It is obvious that this is a highly orchestrated PR campaign to achieve an outcome that is not obtainable in the lawsuit,’ Petrocelli said.

‘No amount of public pressure can change or obscure the explicit contractual commitments. The written contract is clear as a bell.’ 

Disney+ charges subscribers an additional $29.99 beyond the streaming service’s subscription fee to watch Black Widow with Disney Premier Access, a pay-to-access model for individual titles not offered free on the platform.

Petrocelli claimed the Disney Premier Access actually helped raise Johansson’s contractual income because the studio’s share of that streaming revenue is factored in when calculating box-office revenue for the purposes of giving actors bonuses.  

‘We treated Disney Premier Access like box office for the purposes of the bonus requirements in the contract. That only enhanced the economics for Ms. Johansson,’ Petrocelli told Variety.

The contract called for Black Widow to be released on a minimum of 1,500 screens, Petrocelli said. Disney released it on 9,000 screens in the U.S. and 30,000 globally. 

Disney lawyer Daniel Petrocelli, right, suggested in comments to Variety that the company would not bow to ‘public pressure’ and said Scarlett Johansson demands compensation far beyond that of her contract with the studio

The movie set a pandemic-era record bringing in $218 million worldwide over opening weekend earlier this month, including the streaming figures, plus $80 million domestic box office and $78 million internationally. 

The film took in $60 million on Disney+ on the opening weekend alone, the company previously announced in its first breakdown of streaming figures for a movie. 

However, the movie’s box-office performance dropped off sharply after the opening weekend, leading some analysts to question whether the Disney+ streaming release was taking a bite out of ticket sales.

Black Widow saw box office receipts plunge 67 percent after opening weekend, and ticket sales currently stand at $319 million globally, putting the film on track to become one of the lowest-grossing Marvel movies of all time.

Disney previously revealed in a statement to DailyMail.com that Johansson made $20 million from the film. 

‘The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,’ the company said. 

‘Disney has fully complied with Ms. Johansson’s contract. 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.’ 

Black Widow, starring Scarlett Johansson as the cat-suited superspy, was available online to Disney+ subscribers for an extra fee of $29.99

It was not immediately clear what Johansson’s additional compensation from streaming could be.

Still, Petrocelli defended Disney’s decision to release the film on Disney Premier Access – telling Variety that the company had to find ways to distribute the movie under conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and still profit from the film.

‘You had an unexpected COVID crisis and the studio was trying to accommodate millions of fans who are nervous and not comfortable going inside theaters. All studios have had to adjust.’ Petrocelli said.

Petrocelli acknowledged that the film industry is transitioning, exacerbated by the pandemic, and predicted that  future talent deals will ‘become much more specific about the requirements for any contingent compensation.’ 

‘There’s a sea change because of the advent of the internet and the ability to put things out online. This will take time to resolve,’ he added.

For now, Johansson’s contract reads that both parties agreed to handle disputes in arbitration rather than open court, Petrocelli told Variety. 

Variety noted Johansson’s contract is with Marvel Studios LLC, a subsidiary company of Disney, but the lawsuit was filed against the latter on the legal grounds that Disney imposed its corporate priorities to support its streaming platform on Marvel. 

Could Scarlett spark a Hollywood uprising? Star’s lawsuit could inspire others whose films were released via streaming to launch their own battles 

Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit against Disney raises questions over whether other major stars could follow her lead and launch their own legal attacks over compensation after a year where the pandemic drove many studios to abandon traditional cinema releases. 

The suit comes at a pivotal moment for the film industry, as more major studios experiment with releasing movies simultaneously online and in theaters.

In response to the pandemic, Warner Bros. decided to release its full slate of movies this year on HBO Max on the same day that they hit theaters.

Parent company AT&T, which owns both Warner Bros. and HBO, appears pleased with the formula and plans to extend it.

Last week, WarnerMedia chief Jason Kilar revealed that in 2022 Warner Bros. will be producing 10 films that will debut on HBO Max the same day they’re released.

Disney also moved toward simultaneous streaming release of movies due to the pandemic.

Multiple stars and directors have pushed back on the shift to streaming service releases because they cut into the much larger profits that come from traditional months-long exclusive theater runs.  

Warner Bros. and WarnerMedia was forced to pay more than $200million to talent up front last year to compensate for filmmakers’ loss of traditional profit participation after it chose to release movies on HBO Max at no additional cost to consumers.  

And in May it was reported that A Quiet Place II director John Krasinki and star Emily Blunt demanded more money from Paramount Pictures after its parent company ViacomCBS put the film on Paramount+ 45 after its theatrical release.

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