Disney CEO Bob Chapek has fired back at Scarlett Johansson to defend 'last minute calls' and 'flexibility' amid the pandemic after the actress sued the studio for $50 million over its streaming release of Black Widow.

'We value flexibility in being able to make last-minute calls,' Chapek told a Q3 earnings call on Thursday. 'Certainly when we planned we didn't anticipate the resurgence of COVID.'

Johansson, 36, sued Disney last month, alleging that she lost out on more than $50 million as a result of the film being released on streaming service Disney+ at the same time as its release in theatres.

The star claims her contract guaranteed that Black Widow would have an exclusive theatrical release, and that the bulk of her salary was based on the box office performance.

But Chapek on Thursday doubled-down on the 'hybrid movie' release, calling it 'the right strategy to enable us to reach the broadest possible audience.'

The CEO added that 'distribution decisions are made on a film-by-film basis. We will continue to utilize all options going forward.' 

Disney CEO Bob Chapek arrives for the annual Allen and Co. Sun Valley media conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, U.S. July 6
Scarlett Johansson on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on June 22

Disney CEO Bob Chapek (left) has fired back at Scarlett Johansson (right) to defend 'last minute calls' and 'flexibility' amid the pandemic after the actress sued the studio for $50 million over its streaming release of Black Widow 

Johansson as Natasha Romanoff in Black Widow directed by Cate Shortland

Johansson as Natasha Romanoff in Black Widow directed by Cate Shortland

Scarlett Johansson wearing Armani at the 26th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, Arrivals, Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, on January 19, 2020

Scarlett Johansson wearing Armani at the 26th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, Arrivals, Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, on January 19, 2020 

Last week, a lawyer for Disney Daniel Petrocelli slammed Johansson's lawsuit as a 'highly orchestrated' PR stunt to force the studio 'to write a check.'

Petrocelli suggested in comments to Variety that Disney would not bow to 'public pressure' and said the actress demands compensation far beyond that of her contract with the studio. 

'It is obvious that this is a highly orchestrated PR campaign to achieve an outcome that is not obtainable in the lawsuit,' Petrocelli said.

'No amount of public pressure can change or obscure the explicit contractual commitments. The written contract is clear as a bell.' 


Disney+ charges subscribers an additional $29.99 beyond the streaming service's subscription fee to watch Black Widow with Disney Premier Access, a pay-to-access model for individual titles not offered free on the platform.

Petrocelli claimed the Disney Premier Access actually helped raise Johansson's contractual income because the studio's share of that streaming revenue is factored in when calculating box-office revenue for the purposes of giving actors bonuses.  

'We treated Disney Premier Access like box office for the purposes of the bonus requirements in the contract. That only enhanced the economics for Ms. Johansson,' Petrocelli told Variety.

The contract called for Black Widow to be released on a minimum of 1,500 screens, Petrocelli said. Disney released it on 9,000 screens in the U.S. and 30,000 globally. 

Disney lawyer Daniel Petrocelli, right, suggested in comments to Variety that the company would not bow to 'public pressure' and said Scarlett Johansson demands compensation far beyond that of her contract with the studio

The movie set a pandemic-era record bringing in $218 million worldwide over opening weekend earlier this month, including the streaming figures, plus $80 million domestic box office and $78 million internationally. 

The film took in $60 million on Disney+ on the opening weekend alone, the company previously announced in its first breakdown of streaming figures for a movie. 

However, the movie's box-office performance dropped off sharply after the opening weekend, leading some analysts to question whether the Disney+ streaming release was taking a bite out of ticket sales.

Black Widow saw box office receipts plunge 67 percent after opening weekend, and ticket sales currently stand at $319 million globally, putting the film on track to become one of the lowest-grossing Marvel movies of all time.

Disney previously revealed in a statement to DailyMail.com that Johansson made $20 million from the film. 

'The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,' the company said. 

'Disney has fully complied with Ms. Johansson's contract. 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.' 


Black Widow, starring Scarlett Johansson as the cat-suited superspy, was available online to Disney+ subscribers for an extra fee of $29.99

It was not immediately clear what Johansson's additional compensation from streaming could be.

Still, Petrocelli defended Disney's decision to release the film on Disney Premier Access - telling Variety that the company had to find ways to distribute the movie under conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and still profit from the film.

'You had an unexpected COVID crisis and the studio was trying to accommodate millions of fans who are nervous and not comfortable going inside theaters. All studios have had to adjust.' Petrocelli said.

Petrocelli acknowledged that the film industry is transitioning, exacerbated by the pandemic, and predicted that  future talent deals will 'become much more specific about the requirements for any contingent compensation.' 

'There's a sea change because of the advent of the internet and the ability to put things out online. This will take time to resolve,' he added.

For now, Johansson's contract reads that both parties agreed to handle disputes in arbitration rather than open court, Petrocelli told Variety. 

Variety noted Johansson's contract is with Marvel Studios LLC, a subsidiary company of Disney, but the lawsuit was filed against the latter on the legal grounds that Disney imposed its corporate priorities to support its streaming platform on Marvel. 

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