Tuesday, December 7

Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit at Disney is the latest round of a difficult war | Scarlett Johansson

TOAfter heading to the clouds to take down a nefarious brainwashing facility in the Marvel blockbuster Black Widow, Scarlett Johansson’s next target has been revealed and this time she’s hitting much closer to home.

The actor announced Thursday, via a court filing in Los Angeles, which would sue Disney for the launch strategy of its first and last independent adventure. The film had been intended for a theatrical-only debut, in line with its eight previous outings alongside its fellow Avengers, but when Covid-19 closed theaters, it jumped the calendar before landing a now quite familiar hybrid release – available simultaneously at the big screen, as well as at Disney + for a $ 30 rental.

While keeping quiet during the press tour, Johansson has now revealed her frustration, totally understandable, with the decision. What takes this from a personal problem to a legal one is that her lawyers claim that it is a breach of contract, that the star signed the film believing it would be exclusively for theaters and that, despite alleged attempts to renegotiate when the things changed, there is still a discrepancy between what is in the fine print and how it was posted on the small screen. His disappointing theatrical display (the film suffered a 67% drop in its second weekend in America, the worst for any MCU movie) has been directly attributed to its availability at home and Johansson’s original contract guaranteed him a share. of its box office revenues which are now much less than expected.

The news, which is still sending shockwaves at the industry’s last-act showdown level, is both surprising. Y inevitable. A star of its scale assuming an even larger scale study, potentially burning the remaining bridges, is an unusual tactic, but it is a fight that has been steadily brewing since the pandemic accelerated the broadcast wars last year. Studios saw their earnings hit hardest by the pandemic while at the same time streamers saw a rebound, the very nature of how we were consuming the film changed in front of us, and as release dates were canceled it began to occur. change. While some theatrical titles were released at a higher rental cost (Antebellum, Love and Monsters) or sold to streamers (Enola Holmes, The Lovebirds), studios soon saw a third option.

The stratification of streaming services, which has seen studios launch their own internal Netflix competitors, has led to an even more aggressive level of competition such as Warner (HBO Max), Paramount (Paramount +), Universal (Peacock) and Fox / Disney (Hulu and Disney +) have tried to attract and secure their own specific fan bases. The pandemic was an opportunity for them to double down, as audiences needed more home entertainment than ever before, and they decided to download their products internally with movies like The Witches, Nomadland, Infinite, and The Boss Baby 2 released outright. -service with some symbolic theatrical premieres added on top for some.

Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman 1984
Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman 1984. Photograph: Clay Enos / AP

But the first rift in the new world order came after Warner optimistically announced that it would be putting its big-budget Christmas wager Wonder Woman 1984 on HBO Max and in theaters before announcing that the entirety of its 2021 roster would follow suit. Legal action was threatened (Legendary, the company behind Godzilla vs Kong, finally agreed to a deal), the authors were angry (both Denis Villeneuve and Christopher Nolan criticized the study), and exhibitors saw red. While the study claimed that it would be unique, a year like no other, and that 2022 would return to normal, the floodgates had been opened and it is unclear if they will ever be able to close them.

Disney had tested the water with Mulan last September at a time when home theaters were still closed, but making the decision in March to give Black Widow the same hybrid release in July felt more rooted in greed than practicality. (As the lawsuit alleges, this is always an attempt to increase the subscriber base). At the time of Black Widow’s debut earlier this month, it was available on more than 4,000 US screens (just 300 fewer than Captain Marvel in 2019) and made $ 80 million in its opening weekend, the largest ever. debut of the pandemic. The studio boasted of the $ 60 million it also made at home, but as its box office fell rapidly (hack was seen as one of the main reasons and the complaint mentions that TorrentFreak named it the most ripped movie of July), the tensions of the exhibitors re-emerged. The steep drop at the box office was also a problem for Warner’s Space Jam: A New Legacy, another movie available at home on HBO Max. The problem seemed obvious: why go out for a hamburger when you can eat a hamburger at home?

Disney responded, calling the lawsuit “unhealthy and insensitive,” as it does not take Covid-19 into account (the company memorably reopened Disney World last July during a record peak in Florida), but it still appears that the wrath of Johansson is not just legal. solid, at least from a reading of the court papers filed by his attorneys, but it also speaks to a number of bigger issues that concern the industry at large.

Even before the pandemic, viewing habits had shifted, not entirely away from the multiplex as feared, but still, for many low- to mid-budget films, their primary audience was now at home. Smaller hits still made their way, but it was Disney’s titanic Marvel series that provided almost constant proof that millions of us still yearn for the big screen show. So if even your movies are now unsafe, if audiences get used to the luxurious ease of watching them at home, how will this affect the industry as a whole?

Scarlett Johansson in The Avengers
Scarlett Johansson in The Avengers. Photograph: Allstar / Marvel Studios

There’s an added stinger to Black Widow’s move from the big screen to the small screen. Johansson’s character, the only female member of the main Avengers team, had only been given a supporting role to play and while this might have graduated from a one-note sex kitten in Iron Man 2 (Johansson herself recently criticized the ” hypersexualization “of his character) to something more substantial and less ingrained in sexist fantasy, it still took him 11 years and eight movies to get his own separate input, a delay that was frustrating given the number of male partners headlining his own films. Y aftermath. Marvel’s icy stride toward diversity has finally spawned a series of films directed by women or people of color, but having its first female-led Avenger film receive this lower form of release feels like a notable shame. The pandemic has affected many great films, but this impact has been felt most in films directed by women or minorities.

Wonder Woman 1984, Mulan, Happiest Season, Cruella, Raya and the Last Dragon, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Antebellum, Enola Holmes, The Lovebirds, Spell, Run, The Craft: Legacy – All the movies that saw a downgraded release that denied a major office hit box, which for many of them could have taught the industry a vital lesson in how female characters, queer characters, and characters of color can open movies. Disney will release its next film, the Ryan Reynolds-directed comedy Free Guy, exclusively in theaters next month.

The jolt of Johansson’s bold stride, after other actors and directors voiced similar concerns about the future of cinema, may be a wake-up call for some and could lead other stars to pursue similar legal action. At the very least, it will surely lead to a change in contractual promises (the complaint notes that all Wonder Woman 1984 talents were informed of their new release and the issues were “resolved”) and how box office percentages are included in final earnings. . Her financial loss, one that is impossible to truly calculate at this stage, is an unfair dismissal from a studio that spent years denying her a legitimate place in an overwhelmingly male-led franchise and one that she seems to have the right to challenge. It’s also one that she can recover (the lawsuit asks for monetary damages to be shown at trial), but the cost to the industry of the hybrid launch model is one that could be more difficult to calculate. The traditional 12-week launch window has been irrevocably broken – offers launched last year are as abundant as they are confusing – and it’s unclear whether studios and exhibitors will be able to find a way to work together.

There have They have been box office hits in the last 12 months, with major caveats, showing the willingness of some audiences to venture out, but how will studios really begin to measure the success of a movie? How many people pay for tickets or how many people subscribe to a streaming service? The transformation of studios into all-encompassing brands is nothing new, but the breadth feels more pronounced than ever, accelerated by an unprecedented period that has changed the industry in ways that could be irreparable. We may be immersed in war, but the end remains a mystery.


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