When Scarlett Johansson negotiated her deal for Black Widow in 2017, her agent pushed for a backend deal that would see most of the Marvel star’s compensation come from a cut of the box-office receipts. A few weeks after its release, Black Widow earned comparatively less than its predecessors (like Captain America: Civil War). While the pandemic is to blame, so is Disney’s decision to release the movie on its streaming service for just $30.
Although the studio banked an additional $60 million in its opening weekend due to the streaming release, Scarlett Johansson earned far less than expected. As Disney’s stock price rose on Wall Street’s, executives were rewarded for their streaming-centric management of the company. That’s the narrative outlined in the lawsuit filed by Johansson, claiming the release of Black Widow on Disney+ was a breach of her contract. The lawsuit contends that the streaming release siphoned theatergoers and decreased her compensation which was tied to the movie’s theatrical revenue.
Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit has opened up an ugly can of worms that needs to be addressed. While the affected parties battle it out behind closed doors, the entire situation seems to be affecting other major projects – which include the highly anticipated Mortal Kombat 2. Having been described as one of Warner Bros’ top assets, 2021’s Mortal Kombat opened at the top of the domestic box office while earning $83.6 million worldwide.
Although Mortal Kombat received mixed reviews from critics who didn’t care for the story and pacing, fans loved the film’s action sequences and faithfulness to the source material. Given its overall success, the studio is hard at work on a sequel. But We’ve Got This Covered states that the delay for Mortal Kombat 2 may be due to internal discussions over sending the next chapter in the video game-inspired franchise straight to HBO Max, a direct result of the Scarlett Johansson lawsuit.
According to the publication, Mortal Kombat 2 will share a similar budget as streaming exclusives Black Canary, Batgirl, and Blue Beetle. However, the Scarlett Johansson lawsuit could potentially present a sizeable obstacle. Most cast members have signed multi-picture deals, so while they’re definitely under contract, the small print probably wouldn’t have covered HBO Max exclusive sequels. This leaves the studio vulnerable to future lawsuits if talent compensation deals are also determined by box-office receipts.
Directed by Simon McQuoid, Mortal Kombat has built the groundwork for what could be an amazing action franchise. And star Joe Taslim already told Variety that he’s signed up for four more movies if Warner Bros. decides to go ahead with more movies. The film featured several threads that could be explored further. And in a conversation with Variety, McQuoid discussed Mortal Kombat 2 ideas, undead fighters, and what other characters he’d like to see in a potential follow-up. But it could all be delayed because of the ongoing issues with Scarlett Johansson and Disney.
“Sequels are a bit tricky because you can’t ignore them. Because that wouldn’t be a smart move, but none of us used the “s-word.” We’d never talk about it in any depth whatsoever because we feel like we have to put all our energy into this film. That being said, if the fans want another one, that’s not for us to decide; that’s for the fans to decide. Then, we need a couple of joiner pieces that we know can lead us somewhere because there’s a treasure trove of stuff that’s just sitting there.”
Disney’s response to the Scarlett Johansson lawsuit was not pretty. In a statement, the company shamed Scarlett Johansson by saying her lawsuit showed “callous disregard” for the pandemic. The latter has been the studio’s official reason for Black Widow’s day-and-date release in theaters on and Disney+. The company also disclosed the star’s $20 million salary for the movie (via Indie Wire).
While a Hollywood star feeling short-changed after a $20 million payday will never be a poster child for a labor dispute, streaming is having a major impact on the income of actors, writers, directors, producers with less stature than Scarlett Johansson. And due to viewership statistics for streaming projects being kept private, it’s hard for talent representatives to know exactly how much a film is worth to a streamer.
Meanwhile, the fate of day-and-date releases in theaters and on streaming services seems dependent on the outcome of the Disney/ Scarlett Johannson lawsuit. So until then, fans will have to patiently wait for movie bosses to determine the future of their favorite movies, sequels, and franchises.