The drama continues over Disney’s decision to release the latest Marvel outing, Black Widow, straight to their streaming platform on the same day as theaters, with Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige reportedly furious with the move. Coming courtesy of the latest What I’m Hearing… newsletter from former The Hollywood Reporter editor Matthew Belloni, Feige, who by all accounts is a pretty chilled out chap, has taken umbrage with Disney and has asked the major studio to at least make things right with Black Widow star Scarlett Johansson.
“[Feige is] a company man, and not prone to corporate showdowns or shouting matches. But I’m told he’s angry and embarrassed. He lobbied Disney against the day-and-date plan for Black Widow, preferring the big screen exclusivity and not wanting to upset his talent. And then when the sh-t hit the fan, the movie started tanking, and Johansson’s team threatened litigation, he wanted Disney to make this right with her. (Disney declined to comment on Feige.)”
Getting on the bad side of Kevin Feige is very ill-advised, seeing as he is in large part responsible for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its astronomical success. If he was already unhappy with the streaming release, which he sounds like he was very much against, then Disney having now angered Scarlett Johansson is sure to further release the fury of the Feige.
Whether to release Black Widow to Disney+’s Premier Access platform on the same day as theaters is an idea that has been bounced around for some time, with the decision to do so seeming rather last minute. According to Scarlett Johansson’s lawyers, it was indeed very last minute, and has in fact resulted in a breach of contract over which the actress has now filed a lawsuit against Disney and Marvel in Los Angeles Superior Court.
“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 lawsuit reads. “It’s no secret that Disney is releasing films like Black Widow directly onto Disney+ to increase subscribers and thereby boost the company’s stock price – and that it’s hiding behind Covid-19 as a pretext to do so,” said John Berlinski, an attorney at Kasowitz Benson Torres who represents Johansson, via CNBC. “But ignoring the contracts of the artists responsible for the success of its films in furtherance of this short-sighted strategy violates their rights and we look forward to proving as much in court.”
Disney has since fired back, with a spokesperson for the Walt Disney Company saying, “There is no merit whatsoever to this filing. The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Disney has fully complied with Ms. Johansson’s contract and 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.”
The lurch towards high-profile streaming releases and the shrinking of the release window has been a matter of controversy over the last year, and Disney released Black Widow to Disney+ has managed to not only irritate both Scarlett Johansson and Kevin Feige, but theater owners as well. Despite opening very well, the Black Widow box office slumped a massive 67% on its second weekend, leading to The National Association of Theater Owners releasing a statement criticising Disney and its release strategy.
“Despite assertions that this pandemic-era improvised release strategy was a success for Disney and the simultaneous release model, it demonstrates that an exclusive theatrical release means more revenue for all stakeholders in every cycle of the movie’s life,” the statement read. “The many questions raised by Disney’s limited release of streaming data opening weekend are being rapidly answered by Black Widow’s disappointing and anomalous performance. The most important answer is that simultaneous release is a pandemic-era artifact that should be left to history with the pandemic itself.”
Black Widow is likely the last MCU adventure for Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, who must confront the darker parts of her ledger when a dangerous conspiracy with ties to her past arises. Pursued by a force that will stop at nothing to bring her down, Natasha must deal with her history as a spy, and the broken relationships left in her wake long before she became an Avenger. Black Widow is the 24th installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is directed by Cate Shortland from a screenplay by Eric Pearson. Starring Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow alongside Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenle, Olga Kurylenko, William Hurt, Ray Winstone, and Rachel Weisz, Black Widow has received generally positive reviews from critics, partocularly for the performances from Johansson and Pugh.
Financially Black Widow has also done incredibly well, even amid the ongoing circumstances. The movie has broken several pandemic box office records since release, grossing over $319 million worldwide, and thus becoming the fifth-highest-grossing movie of 2021. It has also been reported that Black Widow has made $60 million in Disney+ global revenue in its opening weekend. Of course, even with the movie lighting up the bank accounts of all involved, a breach of contract is a breach of contract, and this would certainly not be the first time that a major studio has shown poor form when deciding to shift a release to streaming.
With Black Widow likely to be Scarlett Johansson’s last time playing the beloved Marvel character, it’s a shame that her swansong has now been tainted by lawsuits and accusations. The actress though has previously bid farewell to the role saying, “Honestly, I feel like it’s always, it feels great to leave a party when it’s still raging and I think that this film [Black Widow] feels very much like it’s alive and fresh and powerful and I feel really pleased with it. I feel really happy with the work that we’ve done for this decade of time and, you know, it’s bitter sweet to say, ‘Goodbye,’ but if you love something, you need to set it free!”