Benedict Cumberbatch, star of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, has chimed in on a lawsuit filed by his Marvel movies co-star Scarlett Johansson against the Walt Disney Company, in which she alleges that the company wrongfully deprived her of revenue when they refused to count premium VOD rental money as "box office." The suit alleges that since Disney unilaterally decided on a day-and-date release model for theaters and Disney+, they had a responsibility to protect her salary, which was largely predicated on how much money the movie made at the box office. According to Johansson's suit, her contract included language that required the movie to have a standard window of theater-only time.
Disney's response has been to blame the extraordinary circumstances of the covid-19 pandemic for the decision, and to fight Johansson in the court of public opinion. Their initial response to her suit did not address the merits of her argument, but rather the ethics of filing such a suit in the current context, claiming that she had already made plenty of money, and that her suit was "especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic."
"It's sad what's going on between the lawyers," Cumberbatch told The Hollywood Reporter. "Just the verbiage and the accusations of, 'Put it in a global pandemic context.' The whole thing's just a bit of a mess. We're trying to understand what the revenue streams should be for artists that contribute to the billion-dollar business that is Disney. And it has to be contractualized. How does an artist's normal compensation with box office bonuses, how does it work? It's a new paradigm, and it's a very complex one. No one saw this coming, and no one should use hindsight to say, 'Well, it should have been done.' That was the first of these films that was going to get a cinematic release during the pandemic and got stalled and stalled and stalled. It's very new territory."
Of course, it's likely that Johansson's people will be quick to point out that plenty of other people did see this coming, and respond in kind. Studios like Warner Bros. and Paramount are reported to have proactively renegotiated contracts before the release of day-and-date digital releases, anticipating the complications that would arise out of the situation and writing off potential losses as the cost of doing business for their new streaming services. The crux of Johansson's argument seems to be that Disney is fairly unique in asking the talent to bear those costs for them.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is expected to hit theaters on March 25, 2022. In the meantime, Marvel's 2021 line-up includes Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which is now playing in theaters, What If..., which releases new episodes on Disney+ on Wednesdays, Eternals in theatres on November 5th, Hawkeye on Disney+ on November 24th, and Spider-Man: No Way Home in theatres on December 17th.