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Scarlett Johansson, star of the Marvel superhero movie "Black Widow", is suing Walt Disney for breach of contract after the media giant released the film on its streaming service at the same time as its cinema debut.
In a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles, the American actress said she had been guaranteed "Black Widow" would have an exclusive theatrical release.
She argued her compensation for her starring role, which was based in large part on the box-office performance of the film, had "substantially" reduced as a result of the decision to simultaneously release the film on streaming services.
The 36-year-old is seeking an undisclosed sum in compensation for lost revenue from Disney, in a rare public confrontation between a major star and Hollywood’s biggest studio.
“Disney intentionally induced Marvel’s breach of the agreement, without justification, in order to prevent Ms Johansson from realising the full benefit of her bargain with Marvel,” Johansson's lawyers argued in the lawsuit, first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
The newspaper reported that the decision to release "Black Widow" on the streaming service Disney+ at the same time as its box office release was projected to cost Ms Johansson more than $50 million.
The lawsuit could emerge as a test case for Hollywood at a time when major media companies are attempting to break ground in the online streaming business - upending how many movie stars are paid.
Disney is among a number of media companies to have begun simultaneously releasing new movies online and in theatres during the coronavirus pandemic, when cinemas were either closed or operating at limited capacity.
But the shift to streaming services has significant financial implications for actors and producers, who have historically seen their compensation tied to box office figures.
Other movie studios, including AT&T Inc's Warner Bros, have negotiated payments to actors and others involved in films that were originally planned for cinemas only but also offered on streaming during the pandemic.
“Black Widow” grossed $80 million at US and Canadian box offices and $78 million overseas on its opening weekend earlier this month, and generated another $60 million through Disney+, the company said.
But in the days following, the film's performance in theatres fell more sharply than many other films in the highly lucrative Marvel franchise, which some have attributed to the decision to make it available to viewers at home.
Johansson has played the Black Widow character in nine Marvel films. The actress was named the world's highest-paid actress in 2018 and 2019 by Forbes magazine, with pre-tax earnings totaling $56 million from June 2018 to June 2019.
Johansson's lawsuit claims that Disney wanted to steer audiences toward Disney+, "where it could keep the revenues for itself while simultaneously growing the Disney+ subscriber base, a proven way to boost Disney's stock price".
"Second, Disney wanted to substantially devalue Ms Johansson’s agreement and thereby enrich itself," the lawsuit said.
A Disney spokesperson said: “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.”