When Marvel Cinematic Universe leading lady Scarlett Johansson — who has portrayed fan-favorite character Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff in the MCU since Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2 (2010) — sued The Walt Disney Company for $50 million in late July following the July 9 release of Romanoff’s origin story film, Black Widow (2021) on the Disney+ streaming platform for $29.99 and in theaters, Marvel fans were shocked.
The legal battle between Johansson’s camp and Disney, which centered around a reported clause in the actress’s contract requiring an exclusive theatrical release of Black Widow, raged on for several months but has now been settled.
Although the terms of the settlement are unclear, the outcome must have appeased Johansson, who had reportedly walked away from her upcoming directorial duties on Disney’s Tower of Terror movie, but is now slated to once again take the reigns on the project.
Recently, famed entertainment and intellectual property (IP) attorney Tom Lallas — who represented Marvel Comics founder Stan Lee prior to his 2018 death and who had no involvement in the recent Black Widow case — shared details about the legal ins and outs of what Johansson and her team were attempting to do:
“Johansson was pushing a giant boulder up to the top of the mountain in trying to prevail against Disney on this litigation for a variety of reasons that made her claims, if not dead on arrival – inherently suspect. The contract wasn’t with Disney. Her contract was with Marvel, so Disney had no direct liability to Johansson. Also, because Disney is a corporate parent for Marvel, Disney has a financial interest privilege that would allow Disney to do things, to authorize things and to intervene and interact in a way that Marvel perhaps couldn’t do directly.”
The high-powered lawyer continued, noting that Johansson’s claims were more-or-less “dead on arrival” when the legal proceedings began:
“Scarlett Johansson had a weak and doubtful claim that would, in all probability, have collapsed in a mild, if not strong, breeze,” he said, adding that he believes Johansson and Disney “found a way to reach a settlement that gave them an ability to maximize their own business, professional and artistic interests, [avoid] prolonged litigation and my guess is that settlement did not involve any payment by Disney of any money or certainly any significant money, to Johansson.”
Lallas also shared that his educated assumption is that Johansson’s contract, at least in regard to the nature of the lawsuit, “is flawed” presuming that the agreement didn’t include a negotiated clause for a 45-day, 60-day, 90-day, or even 120-day period of theatrical exclusivity.
This essentially means that the lawsuit was dead in the water when it was filed because the term “theatrical exclusivity” was not clearly defined in a legal sense.
More on Black Widow
The official description of the movie reads:
In Marvel Studios’ action-packed spy thriller “Black Widow,” Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow confronts the darker parts of her ledger when a dangerous conspiracy with ties to her past arises. Pursued by a force that will stop at nothing to bring her down [Taskmaster and Dreykov (Ray Winstone)], Natasha must deal with her history as a spy and the broken relationships left in her wake long before she became an Avenger.
Scarlett Johansson reprises her role as Natasha/Black Widow, Florence Pugh stars as Yelena, David Harbour portrays Alexei/The Red Guardian, and Rachel Weisz is Melina. “Black Widow” — the first film in Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — is directed by Cate Shortland and produced by Kevin Feige.
Do you think the Black Widow lawsuit ever had a chance?
You can stream Black Widow and the three series in Marvel’s Phase 4 so far — Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany’s WandaVision, Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, and animated series What If…? — on Disney+ anytime.