UPDATED with more details: Just days after the first court hearing in Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow profits mega-bite lawsuit on Disney was pushed back to March 2022, the Oscar nominee and the House of Mouse have made peace — and it was pricey for the latter.
“I am happy to have resolved our differences with Disney,” said Johansson in a statement released Thursday. “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.”
Unlike in their vitriolic filings and their shaming PR statements over the past few, Marvel-owner Disney had nothing but love today for the actor who brought Natasha Romanoff to life for them in nearly 10 separate films.
I’m very pleased that we have been able to come to a mutual agreement with Scarlett Johansson regarding Black Widow, said Alan Bergman, Chairman, Disney Studios Content. “We appreciate her contributions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and look forward to working together on a number of upcoming projects, including Disney’s Tower of Terror,” the exec added without any comment from Disney CEO Bob Chapek, as one would have expected.
As is almost always the case in cases like this, neither side gave any indication of how much money was involved in the settlement. However, when all is said and done, the deal will run to more than $40 million, sources tell me. Accordingly, the funds will not be paid by Disney in a single lump sum, if you pick up the creative accounting I’m putting down.
In case you forgot, Black Widow came out in cinemas across a Delta variant suffering America and on Disney+ for a premium fee on July 9
With the Covid-19 pandemic, a shift to hybrid releases and the sentimentality free economics of back-end payouts at the heart of Johansson’s July 29 filed suit, the actor declared that she was promised “a release that is exclusive to movie theatres” on the much-delayed Cate Shortland-directed film and Disney broke its word.
Then things got real messy.
Disney incurred the wrath of many, including Johansson’s CAA main man Bryan Lourd, for not only telling the world that the actor got paid $20 million upfront for the film, but also tried to make their longtime collaborator look out and out cruel for standing up for herself. “The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said a Disney spokesperson hours after Johansson’s suit became public.
Then, as the toxic PR blast radius continued to spread, late on August 20, Disney’s outside counsel Daniel Petrocelli, Leah Godesky and Tim Heafner of O’Melveny & Myers LLP put the company’ response in the Los Angeles Superior Court docket.
Seeking to enforce the “confidential, binding arbitration” aspects of Black Widow star and executive producer Johansson’s contract, the trio doubled down on the actor and her shingle. “In a futile effort to evade this unavoidable result (and generate publicity through a public filing), Periwinkle excluded Marvel as a party to this lawsuit––substituting instead its parent company Disney under contract-interference theories,” they said of the mega-star plaintiff. “But longstanding principles do not permit such gamesmanship.”
Notwithstanding the hyperboles, the fact is Disney likely would have prevailed in getting the whole thing moved behind closed doors.
In their August 20 throwback, they also contest that there was any cinema only clause in the contract and that Johansson had lost out of any cash because fans decided to watch the flick at home as opposed to the multiplex. “As of August 15, 2021, the Picture has grossed more than $367 million in worldwide box-office receipts and more than $125 million in streaming and download retail receipts,” Disney’s sharp elbowed filing of August 20 noted.
Yet, also, with terms like “misogynistic attack” fired off by the actor’s lawyer main lawyer John Berlinski back at Disney and the revealing of Johansson’s Black Widow pay check by Disney in the days and hours following the filing of the explosive suit, both sides were clearly looking for a solution ASAP – especially as the Bob Chapek-led media giant faced the prospect of extensive discovery in the legal face-off.
Amidst the claims of Tinseltown wags that there was a black cloud between the current CEO and his predecessor Bob Iger, as well as Marvel chief Kevin Feige, about how the Johansson matter was being so roughly handled in and out of the public eye, Chapek made a point of addressing the spider in the room on an August 12 earnings call.
“Bob Iger and I, along with the distribution team, determined this was the right strategy to enable us to reach the broadest possible audience,” the new-ish CEO said, aware that both he and Iger’s financial windfall from the success of Disney+ was a big part of the initial Johansson lawsuit. Talking tough for the tough Wall Street crowd listening in, Chapek added: “Disney will always do “what we believe is in the best interest of the film and the best interest of our constituents.”
Of course, as never one to withstand a less than sunny public face, Disney also moved fast to lock up other potential blow-outs with the likes of Cruella star Emma Stone. On August 13, it was announced Disney had struck a seemingly lucrative deal with the WME-repped Oscar winner to star in a sequel to the May 26 hybrid released movie.
Which is, without a sequel, what Disney had essentially done now with Scarlett Johansson – the Black Widow who took on Goliath and won. A scent of where this was all going to end wafted by on September 21 when Chapek spoke to Goldman Sachs’ 30th annual Communacopia Conference
“Right now we have this sort of middle position, where we’re trying to do right by the talent, I think the talent is trying to do right by us, and we’re just figuring out our way to bridge the gap,” the exec said of figuring out how to avoid dust-ups like the legal one with Johansson. “Ultimately we believe our talent is our most important asset, and we’ll continue to believe that, and as we always have, we’ll compensate them fairly per the terms of the contract that they agreed to us with.”
But you also don’t want your marquee assets to depreciate either, on or off screen.
For those who like to keep score, this is the another win for Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP’s Berlinski and his co-lead counsel Daniel Saunders over Petrocelli is just over as many years.
Back in 2019, the two attorneys were pitted against each other in the four year battle by Bones executive producers and stars Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz to get Fox and then Disney, after the then Iger-run company gobbled up most of the Murdoch’s Hollywood holdings, to come clean on some serious profit participation trickery. There were a lot of hard words back then and some slippery shifts by arbitrator and a judge, who rejected a ruling awarding $128 million in punitive damages to the plaintiffs. In the end, Berlinski and Saunders, along with a team from Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert, made the Bones EPs and actors some serious bones with a big pay-off and a dismissal of the case on September 11, 2019.
It should also be noted that Black Widow for a time was the highest grossing movie of the pandemic at the domestic box office with $183.6M. The film was recently pushed to second by Disney/Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings which has now grossed over $200M.
Worldwide Black Widow has made $378.8M.
It’s believed by many in the industry that the film could have made more on a theatrical window instead of going day and date on Disney+ Premier where the streamers subscribers had to fork over $29.99 to watch the film. The movie saw one of the biggest drops for a Disney Marvel movie in its second weekend of -68%. The only extent that Disney reported in regards to how much Black Widow made on Disney+ Premier was $60M WW in the movie’s first weekend. No other updated details were provided by the studio, through Samba TV clocked 2M U.S. households that had tuned into the film over its first 10 days. Also eating into Black Widow’s theatrical day-and-date plan, and stealing money away from Disney was piracy: Industry sources tells us that Black Widow was illegally streamed over 20M times.
Anthony D’Alessandro contributed to this report.
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