Scarlett Johansson and Disney reach settlement over Black Widow pay

Scarlett Johansson sued Disney in late July for breach of contract. PHOTO: MARVEL STUDIOS

LOS ANGELES (NYTIMES) - American actress Scarlett Johansson and Walt Disney Studios reached a settlement on Thursday (Sept 30) in a legal dispute involving streaming-era compensation for the superhero film Black Widow (2021). Terms were not disclosed.

"I am happy to have resolved our differences," Johansson, 36, said in a statement.

"I'm incredibly proud of the work we've done together over the years and have greatly enjoyed my creative relationship with the team. I look forward to continuing our collaboration in years to come."

Mr Alan Bergman, chairman of Disney Studios Content, echoed her comments and added that Disney would move forward with Johansson "on a number of upcoming projects".

They include an adventure film based on Tower Of Terror, a popular ride at Walt Disney World.

Johansson, who has played Marvel character Black Widow in eight blockbuster films, sued Disney in late July for breach of contract.

A blistering response from a Disney spokesman put Johansson's representatives at Creative Artists Agency on war footing with the entertainment conglomerate.

Hollywood lit up with chatter that a bevy of other stars were similarly unhappy with Disney and poised to follow her to the courts.

In her lawsuit, Johansson claimed that Disney breached her contract when it released Black Widow simultaneously in cinemas and on the Disney+ streaming service in early July.

The suit said that Disney had promised that Black Widow would receive an exclusive release in cinemas for about 90 to 120 days and that her compensation - based largely on bonuses tied to ticket sales - had been gutted as a result of the hybrid release.

Simultaneous availability on Disney+, where subscribers could watch the film instantly (and have permanent access to it) for a US$30 (S$41) surcharge, "dramatically decreased box office revenue", Johansson said in the suit.

Over its first three days in release, Black Widow took in US$158 million at theatres worldwide and about US$60 million on Disney+ Premier Access.

Total ticket sales now stand at US$379 million, the lowest total for a Marvel Studios release since 2008, when The Incredible Hulk collected US$265 million, or US$341 million in today's dollars.

Disney has not given a running total for Disney+ sales of Black Widow.

Johansson would have made tens of millions of dollars in box office bonuses if Black Widow had approached US$1 billion in global ticket sales; Captain Marvel (2019) and Black Panther (2018) both exceeded that threshold in pre-pandemic release, so similar turnout for Black Widow was not out of the question.

The Wall Street Journal reported in September that Creative Artists had privately asked Disney to pay Johansson US$80 million - on top of her base salary of US$20 million - to compensate for lost bonuses. Disney did not respond with a counter offer, prompting her to sue.

The action got Disney's attention and then some.

"There is no merit whatsoever to this filing," Disney said in a statement in July that went on to cast Johansson as greedy.

"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 then.

On Thursday, Mr Bergman said he was "very pleased" to have "come to a mutual agreement" with Johansson.

As for the predicted torrent of similar lawsuits from other stars, none have materialised.

Not long after Johansson filed her complaint, Disney privately reached compensation agreements with actors such as Emma Stone, whose Cruella (2021) was distributed in the same manner as Black Widow.

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