Summer is the season of big Hollywood releases. The moment of the year when the bets of the big studios to make cash reach the screens around the world. That of this 2021 is especially important because it is considered that it can be a thermometer of how the recovery of the sector is progressing after the 2020 pause caused by the coronavirus. But this season’s big event for the industry looks set to happen not in the theaters, but in the courts: the legal dispute that Scarlett Johansson initiated last week against Disney, a tale of David versus Goliath in times of rapid platform transformation. digital and studios, is shaking the foundations of Hollywood.
Johansson considers that the issuance of Black widow on the Disney + service at the same time as on the cinema screens, it hurts the percentage of the income that it agreed to receive from the box office. The conflict also offers the possibility of taking an unusual look at the tensions between the big studios and their stars, almost always resolved away from the public eye. And it may encourage other artists to file and publicize similar complaints. Gerard Butler has already done it: two days after Johansson filed his lawsuit, the actor filed another against the production company Nu Image / Millennium Films because, according to the interpreter, he did not pay him everything agreed for the benefits of the film Objetive the white house, released in 2013. Butler affirms that the directors of the company did not declare all the income that the film achieved, which they estimated at 172 million dollars (144 million euros), while an auditor hired by the interpreter adds another 17, 5 (14.7 million euros). The actor concludes that they owe him 10 million dollars (eight million euros).
Butler may not be the only one to follow Johansson’s lead in the coming months, as the case has sparked immediate reactions in the industry. Such an influential star as Alec Baldwin immediately showed his support the actress on social media and criticized the position of the executives. And many Hollywood agents are waiting for the outcome of this confrontation, which could forever change the working rules between big studios and artists.
Johansson’s lawsuit, filed by his attorneys last Thursday in Los Angeles courts, says Disney breached its contract by releasing Black widow on the digital platform as well as in theaters. The complaint emphasizes that the representatives of Johansson and the directors of the superhero film studio had already discussed since the beginning of 2019 the possibility of renegotiating the contract if that happened. The final document agreed between the parties, according to the complaint, gave the film an exclusive window of between 90 and 120 days of travel on some 1,500 screens, a period in which the actress aspired to a juicy supplement that would depend on the collection at the box office. Johansson estimates that the debut on the platform wiped out the possibility of winning an additional $ 50 million.
Disney responded to the lawsuit with a statement that surprised many. The conglomerate, which made $ 65 billion in profits in 2020, called the lawsuit “sad” and stressed that it showed a “cruel indifference” to the “horrible and prolonged effects of the pandemic.” The company, which has owned Marvel since 2009, revealed the actress’s salary of $ 20 million, an unusual gesture for an industry that jealously guards celebrity pay. Disney finally added that the digital premiere will make more money for Johansson, who in 2018 and 2019 was the highest paid star in Hollywood, according to Forbes. In that year he entered 35 million dollars only with the last delivery of Avengers: Endgame, the highest grossing film in history.
The Disney communication enraged Bryan Lourd, Johansson’s agent and head of one of the most important representation agencies in Hollywood, Creative Artists Agency. Lourd called Disney’s accusation “false” and “shameless” on Friday. She also criticized the revelation of the actress’ salary, which she believes was used as a weapon in the public eye “as if her success was something she should be ashamed of.” The agent assured in a harsh press release that Disney violated the contract on purpose to continue with its strategy of launching priority titles on its platform. This is the fourth film that it offers at the same time as in theaters on its service, launched in November 2019 and which already has more than 100 million subscribers. Last Friday premiere The jungle cruisestarring Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson, which had a low-key first weekend grossing $ 90 million, of which a third came from viewers on Disney +.
The tone used by Disney lays the groundwork for what the showdown will be like in court. Especially because it contrasted with the exultant communication which he launched in early July after the premiere of Black widow, which accounted for a worldwide box office profit of $ 215 million in its opening weekend. Of these, 60 million were exclusively collected by Disney +, which charged its subscribers an extra $ 30 to see the film. “It is the best premiere in the United States since the pandemic began,” the company considered. To find a better collection, you had to go back to December 2019, with the premiere of Star Wars: The rise of Skywalker.
The company concealed that the film starring Johansson was far from other Marvel successes. Black widow is her first solo lead job for Marvel, despite the fact that the actress has played the character in eight other films since 2010. In superhero origin stories she was outdone by Black Panther Y Captain Marvel, only two of several installments of the study that have broken the barrier of 1,000 million dollars, something that will be difficult for the spy and assassin that Johansson plays. Analysts estimate the delivery led by Cate Shortland to be around $ 500 million. The company’s message, however, boasted of its “flexible distribution strategy” by giving access to the film to those who preferred to see it at home in the face of the growth of the delta variant of covid-19.
That strategy has also been adopted by other studios, which have started offering their most valuable bets on their platforms. At the forefront of this movement is WarnerMedia, which offers its top premieres on HBO Max the same day it hits theaters. Right from the beginning that movement caused an earthquake among the agents. WarnerBros was forced to renegotiate the terms of the deals with stars like Denzel Washington, for The Little Things; Gal Gadot, protagonist of Wonder Woman 1984, and Will Smith, who plays the father of Venus and Serena Williams in King richard, which will be released on the platform in November. The process to pave the way for digital output cost the company $ 250 million. It now remains to be seen if Scarlett Johansson can twist a giant’s arm.
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