Scarlett Johansson is pissed that Disney has sent “Black Widow” to streaming service Disney+ – and the lawsuit might just be enough to nudge the industry to return to its elongated windows.
Before the pandemic, it would normally take a couple of months for a film to premiere on home video or a streaming platform – sometimes as long as six months, depending on the title – but when Coronavirus reared its ugly head, studios were forced to either delay the releases of their tentpole flicks indefinitely… or go with a newly proposed model of releasing films on streaming platforms, usually for a premium, the same day they open in theaters (or lack of).
Already this year films like “In the Heights”, “Mulan”, “The Conjuring : The Devil Made Me Do It”, “No Sudden Move” and “Cruella” have been available for the click of a button on the TV, the same day they were premiering at your local theater (if it was even open, as many weren’t during the pandemic).
“Black Widow”, the release of which had been pushed back over twelve months due to the ongoing pandemic, premiered on Disney+, and in theaters, earlier this month.
According to star Scarlett Johansson, she didn’t sign up for a movie that would premiere on TVs the day it plays in the Chinese theater. As a consequence, she predicts she’s lost a packet of pennies.
The 36-year-old star of such films as “The Avengers” and “Lost in Translation” filed a lawsuit against Disney on Thursday in Los Angeles, alleging the studio breached her contract. According to the actress, she was guaranteed a theatrical-only release.
“Disney intentionally induced Marvel’s breach of the agreement, without justification, in order to prevent Ms. Johansson from realizing the full benefit of her bargain with Marvel,” the suit said.
Disney have come back swinging, saying they didn’t break Johansson’s contract and that the lawsuit has “no merit whatsoever”.
“The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Disney said in a statement to press.
According to the studio, by putting the movie on its streaming platform, the actress had “significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation” on top of the $US20 million she had already received.
While the film did well overall, scoring a pandemic-best of $US80 million in North America and $US78 million from international theaters, ticket sales dwindled quickly.
On week 2 of its release, the National Association of Theater Owners issued a rare statement slamming the strategy, saying simultaneous release led to lost profits and piracy.
IMAX chief Rich Gelfond thinks we’ll start seeing less and less streaming/theatrical coinciding releases going forward.
“Every studio has seen the same data that Disney has seen. What Disney did is experiment during the pandemic, which is what they said they were going to do,” the CEO said during an earnings call earlier this week.
“I remember [Disney CEO] Bob Chapek saying at one of their investor days that when times are normal, he thinks theatrical is important, exclusivity is important,” Gelfond said, “and I think when he looks at his data and the pandemic is in the rearview mirror that he’ll come to the same conclusion that everyone else does: The way to maximize value is to have a theatrical window.”
“It’s hard to quantify it, but some statistics I find interesting is that F9, which is the more traditional distribution model, will gross about $700M worldwide at the end of its run, and Black Widow will gross half of that,” the Imax boss said. “Black Widow was a great movie, so when I think about it, there was no doubt a lot of money was left on the table.”
So what’s gonna be the result? Someone’s gonna see the purse fattened, that’s what.
Johansson will likely be paid a chunk more money, so that this doesn’t play out any further. You’ll likely also see talent involved in other upcoming streaming-theatrical releases reneg on their deals now that the release model of their film has been adjusted.
Disney are releasing another of their films to both streaming platforms and theaters this week, “Jungle Cruise” (read my review here).