Scarlett Johansson, star of the Marvel superhero movie “Black Widow,” sued the Walt Disney Co on Thursday, alleging that the company breached her contract when it offered the movie on streaming at the same time it played in theaters.
The dual release strategy reduced Johansson’s compensation, which was based partly on box office receipts from what was supposed to be an exclusive run in cinemas, according to the complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.
“Black Widow” debuted on July 9 in theaters and for a $30 charge on the Disney+ streaming service. Disney has been testing the hybrid pattern for some films during the coronavirus pandemic as the company tries to boost its streaming service.
Johansson’s lawsuit claims that Disney wanted to steer audiences toward Disney+, “where it could keep the revenues for itself while simultaneously growing the Disney+ subscriber base, a proven way to boost Disney’s stock price.”
“Second, Disney wanted to substantially devalue Ms. Johansson’s agreement and thereby enrich itself,” the lawsuit said.
The suit seeks unspecified damages to be determined at trial.
The outcome could have broad ramifications in Hollywood as media companies try to build their streaming services by offering premium programming to lure subscribers.
A Disney representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Black Widow,” the story of the Russian assassin turned Avenger, pulled in $80 million at U.S. and Canadian box offices over its debut weekend. The movie also generated $60 million through Disney+ purchases, Disney said.
Johansson has played the character in nine Marvel films.
Other movie studios including AT&T Inc’s Warner Bros. have negotiated payments to actors and others involved in films that were originally planned for theaters only but also offered on streaming during the pandemic.
Johansson’s suit said her representatives approached Disney about resolving the issue but were “largely ignored.”
The actress topped the Forbes magazine list of the world’s highest-paid actress in 2018 and 2019. Johansson’s pre-tax earnings totaled $56 million from June 2018 to June 2019.
Disney also is offering a same-day streaming release starting Friday for “Jungle Cruise,” an action-adventure movie starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt.