All eyes in the film industry remain focused on the lawsuit Scarlett Johansson filed against The Walt Disney Co. claiming that the parent company caused Marvel Studios to breach a clause in her Black Widow contract. The problem arose when the latest Marvel blockbuster was placed on the streaming service Disney+ the same day that it arrived in theaters -- thereby affecting the box-office revenue potentially earned by the prequel. That becomes an issue for Johansson, who is claiming that her contract guaranteed her an exclusive theatrical release (potentially hitting revenue figures that would trigger bonuses for the actor/producer). But analysts also are weighing in to explain WHY Disney probably made this decision.
It’s a sticky situation for almost everyone involved, even audience members. And experts speaking to The Wrap on the condition of anonymity admitted that they were shocked to see the details of this case go public. But one agent who assessed the ramifications of the lawsuit suggested that Disney chose to put Black Widow on Disney+ because the streaming service is more important to the Disney stock price than recent Marvel Studios movies have been. Yep, it all comes down to money (in some shape or form). The agent explained:
(Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob) Chapek did what was the right move for his shareholders, which is to drive people to Disney+, which he has successfully done while also increasing the stock price. Notably, the numerous successes of the various Marvel (theatrical) films have done nothing to increase the Disney stock price. But increased subscriptions to Disney+ has. So what’s $50 million or so to Chapek?
It’s cold analysis, though Wall Street decisions always are based on numbers instead of emotion. If data proves that the success of the streaming service Disney+ has a greater effect on the stock price of Disney shares than Marvel's latest movies, then yes, Bob Chapek is going to make decisions that favor Disney+ nine times out of ten. As the agent tells The Wrap, it might cost him millions in a settlement with Scarlett Johansson. But he’s managing a multi-billion dollar company.
More importantly, though, this lawsuit is about optics, on so many levels. Talent is eyeballing the lawsuit and its results to see how much power they wield in the current entertainment environment -- and also to see if Disney is the friendly studio with which to collaborate that they appeared to be under Bob Iger. Audiences, meanwhile, are waiting to see what is going to come of the day-and-date model that’s being used by both Disney and Warner Bros. for their tentpole blockbusters. Jungle Cruise recently “opened” on Disney+ for that $30 Premier Access fee. And James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad will be available for HBO Max subscribers on Friday, August 6, the same day it opens in theters.
To avoid similar lawsuits to the one filed by Scarlett Johansson, the major studios will have to renegotiate with top talent to figure out their financial compensations should big movies keep going to streaming. But the general consensus of experts watching this situation unfold in the public eye believe that Disney made this move with Black Widow to bolster the profile and stature of its Disney+ streaming service, and if it helped raise the company’s stock price, you can bet that they will continue down that road and iron out the kinks along the way