Avengers: Endgame’s Joe Russo Gets Honest About Marvel’s ‘Disturbing’ Treatment Of Scarlett Johansson After Black Widow Fallout

This time last year, Walt Disney Studios made the controversial decision to release its first Marvel movie since the COVID-19 pandemic in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access on the same day. It was the first and last time the House of Mouse did this for a Marvel Studios movie, especially following Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit against the studio for breaching their contract. In the aftermath of Black Widow’s release, Marvel director and producer Joe Russo has shared his honest perspective on the studio’s treatment of Johansson. 

Joe Russo, is one half of the Russo Brothers, who have worked with the actress on four Marvel films, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. After helming Endgame, which included the death of Black Widow alongside Captain America and Iron Man's storylines being wrapped, the Russos have moved away from Marvel to pursue original movies, like Extraction and the upcoming The Gray Man. Recently, Russo reflected on the Black Widow situation with these words: 

The studios are having a conservative reaction, and they’re trying to downplay their need for stars. They’re trying to force IP to be their star, and in accordance with that they’re also then trying to underpay and diminish the need for stars on their projects. That was really not an appropriate way for them to handle that situation. It was disturbing to us as artists. Scarlett is a good friend of ours, and we were disheartened by how it was handled. We’re glad it’s resolved.

Black Widow had a solid opening weekend back in theaters in July 2021 and Disney boasted $60 million in Disney+ earnings, but Scarlett Johansson nor any other talent received backend payment for the earnings made on streaming. To make matters worse, Black Widow dropped nearly 70% at the box office in its second week, which is unheard of with Marvel. Black Widow’s disappointing $379 million worldwide box office total led to Johansson’s lawsuit. 

Initially, Disney had a scathing response to Johansson’s lawsuit, calling it “callous” amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. A couple months later, the lawsuit was settled between the two sides. Furthermore Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which featured a relatively unknown star and superhero, came out the following September and surpassed Black Widow’s numbers, making $432 million worldwide in theaters exclusively. 

Previously, it was reported by The Wall Street Journal, without cited sources, that the Russo Brothers were so upset by Disney’s treatment of Scarlett Johansson for Black Widow that they decided not to return to Marvel. Russo also said during his Den of Geek interview: 

We’re certainly concerned with the trend in the market that’s moving away from artists. There’s been a lot of value in tech companies getting involved in making content, but there’s also some downsides to that. And those downsides include tech companies like Netflix and Apple and Amazon having much deeper pockets than studios do, and they can pay more and that’s starting to scare the studios.

The Russos have recently continued to work with Marvel stars on original movies outside of the superhero realm, such as with Tom Holland on Cherry, Chris Hemsworth on Extraction (which the Russo Bros produced) and the upcoming release of The Gray Man, with Chris Evans playing villain to Ryan Gosling’s black ops mercenary. That movie hits Netflix on July 15. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.