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Popularizing the “backend” approach to making profits off a movie’s success, Marvel Cinematic Universe actors began to take decreased upfront payments for their roles, with a vested percentage of profits given to the actor based on the total box office run.
Once seen as a gold mine for actors associated with blockbuster genre films destined to score big at the box office, the Mickey Mouse magic is running low after MCU actress Scarlett Johansson announced she is filing a lawsuit against Walt Disney Studios and its comic book subsidiary for wages lost during her film’s “botched” release.
Johansson is suing the company for a reported total of $50 million, which reports from The Wrap claim have a “substantial basis.”
Robert Downey, Jr.’s risky backend bet with 2008’s Iron Man landed him a payday five times his initial payment, then earning a total of $130 million for two Avengers movies that followed. While the lucrative approach has produced ultra riches for Disney/Marvel’s cast of characters, the deal doesn’t appear to be holding up anymore. Johansson claimed that the flat box office performance of her character’s origin movie, Black Widow, was in large part due to the studio’s releasing of the film on Disney’s streaming platform — with same-day release alongside the theatrical release.
Members of the Disney+ streaming service were allowed to watch the blockbuster comic movie from home for a $30 price, which Johansson claims had an impact on underwhelming theater ticket sales and audience numbers, per the typical Marvel release.
Marvel’s last canonical movie released prior to Black Widow was Spider-Man: Far From Home, which had a box office total of $1.13 billion — an improbable finish line for Johansson’s latest film.
While release date delays and a decision to move the title to Disney+ were largely in response to the limitations set by the COVID-19 pandemic, Johansson’s call for a bigger cut has joined a revolt from Hollywood, who have watched their big screen features get sent to iPhone screens.
WarnerMedia and streaming service HBO Max also garnered backlash regarding several of their key theatrical releases when directors and actors involved with the projects felt that the move to streaming would severely hinder box office gains.
With movie studios assigning a percentage of their earnings to marketing and requisite cuts on behalf of theaters showing the movie, Black Widow‘s current worldwide gross falling under $400 million worldwide — against the movie’s $200 million production budget — means the film may need to cross the $500 million mark in order to make a reasonable profit.
Black Widow released on July 9, 2021 after its originally scheduled date of May 1, 2020.