Disney faces lawsuit for dual-release

Photo Courtesy of Disney

Actress Scarlett Johansson filed a lawsuit against Disney on July 29 in response to Disney’s decision to release “Black Widow” on Disney+ Premier Access at the same time the movie began to show in theaters.

Disney released Marvel’s “Black Widow,” starring Johansson, on July 9. Beginning on July 9, audiences could watch the film in theaters or through Disney+ Premier Access, which allows Disney+ subscribers to pay an additional fee to access new movies. 

This dual-release process has become more common during the COVID-19 pandemic to decrease COVID-19 transmission at theaters. Disney has opted to use the dual-release system for a collection of other recent movies, including “Raya and the Last Dragon,” “Cruella” and “Jungle Cruise.”

Johansson claimed that Disney breached her contract by releasing the film through its streaming service on the same day of its release in theaters. According to the complaint filed by Periwinkle Entertainment, Inc. on behalf of Johansson, the dual-release caused Johansson to lose money as her profits were linked to the movie’s box office receipts.

“To maximize these receipts, and thereby protect her financial interests, Ms. Johansson extracted a promise from Marvel that the release of the Picture would be a ‘theatrical release,’” Periwinkle Entertainment, Inc. said in the complaint. 

“As Ms. Johansson, Disney, Marvel and most everyone else in Hollywood knows, a ‘theatrical release’ is a release that is exclusive to movie theaters. Disney was well aware of this promise, but nonetheless directed Marvel to violate its pledge and instead release the Picture on the Disney+ streaming service the very same day it was released in movie theaters.”

Johansson accused Disney of trying to maximize its own profits while minimizing hers through Premier Access profits and increasing Disney stock value. However, Disney denied the claims, citing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as a reason for dual-release decisions. Ordinarily, movies would remain in theaters for three or four months before being released on streaming platforms.

“I feel like Disney’s dual-release system is mainly a way to entice people to purchase a Disney+ subscription,” said Luke Hernandez, freshman criminal justice major. 

“I feel like Disney should be clear with what exactly they are planning to do much before it happens, and the actors or actresses involved might be able to come to more of an agreement beforehand. In the case of an emergency, I feel like Disney should still attempt to reach out, but as the main corporation, it is mainly their decision to make.”

As of Sept. 12, domestic box office sales for “Black Widow” had reached $183 million, while worldwide sales had reached $372 million. In the past, Marvel movies such as “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame” grossed billions of dollars in box office sales while in theaters.

“Originally I liked the idea of Disney releasing movies on Disney+ while theaters were closed, but now I think it presents an issue,” said Kristie Wiseman, junior biomedical major. “People are losing money because it is easier to watch movies on Disney+ than in a movie theater. I think they should wait longer now before opening it on Disney+.”

Despite the lawsuit, Disney has indicated that the dual-release system might continue beyond 2021.

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