Scarlett Johansson sues Disney over ‘Black Widow’ release, no gold medal for Olympic ratings

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Scarlett Johansson stars in Disney’s “Black Widow.” In a new lawsuit, the actress says Disney’s decision to put the film on streaming cost her $50 million in box office bonuses. Photo by Marvel Studios

Scarlett Johansson, star of “Black Widow,” is suing Disney over the release of the Marvel film. Johansson says Disney’s failure to give the movie an exclusive theatrical release was a breach of contract that cost her $50 million in box office bonuses. “Black Widow” opened in theaters and was available to stream on Disney+ for a $30 charge on the same day. 

The film’s box office receipts dropped precipitously in the second weekend of release. A part of that drop could have been because big Marvel fans who wanted to watch the movie again were doing so at home on Disney+, rather than returning to theaters. 

Disney bragged that “Black Widow” made $60 million on its streaming platform during opening weekend, and stock prices went up because of that news. Johansson says this is in direct opposition to her success as an actress — she’d have made more money if the film had only been in theaters. 

Johansson’s lawsuit also points out an email that a Marvel lawyer sent to her team guaranteeing that “Black Widow” would come out exclusively in theaters and understanding that they would need to discuss it with her should plans change. 

This is likely just the beginning of a long battle between stars and movie studios over theatrical compensation in the streaming age.  

In Olympic news, NBCUniversal is facing difficulties on multiple fronts — the lack of in-person crowds because of COVID, famous superstar athlete Simone Biles stepping away from the competition, and consumers complaining about the struggles of navigating its streaming service Peacock. It has also been unclear when and where certain competitions actually air. Some broadcasts aren’t shown until hours after the results have already been shared on social media. 

Ratings for the Olympics on television are so low compared to past Games that advertisers are starting to ask for “make goods,” or free advertising to make up for all the viewers they were promised but didn’t get. 

As bad as things are for the Olympic broadcast, it’s worth remembering that all of linear TV is hitting historic ratings lows.

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