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On Aug. 13, one day after Disney CEO Bob Chapek deflected criticism over a profits lawsuit from Black Widow star Scarlett Johansson by telling investors that “by and large” talent deals had gone “very smoothly,” the executive locked in another franchise star for a sequel.
Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that Emma Stone scored a low eight-figure payday for the sequel to Cruella, which was released May 28 both in theaters and Disney+ via Premier Access for $30.
One big unknown: It’s unclear what the profit participation structure is for the sequel. Disney declined to comment. However, on Endeavor’s Aug. 16 earnings call, president Mark Shapiro referenced the Cruella 2 deal, adding that for its WME division clients like Stone, “we are getting the front end for our clients for movies and TV, like we always get, [and] increasingly, we are getting the backend bought out … the Netflix model.”
While Disney’s top brass avoided another contentious lawsuit — Johansson claims the studio sacrificed Black Widow box office in order to grow Disney+ subscriptions — backend and buyout payments will be an ongoing conflict with talent.
According to sources, Stone received an up-front fee in the $8 million range for the first Cruella, which marked a career high for the actress. The studio was high on the movie as it shot in 2019 but in 2020 — when the movie was in postproduction and the world in the throes of the pandemic — sources say Disney leaned toward releasing the movie only on Disney+, a scenario in which the studio would have been required to make buyout payments.
Stone and director Craig Gillespie pushed back against that idea, considering a big-screen release a matter of integrity, and the studio later changed strategies and decided to release the movie in theaters as well. Had Cruella moved to streaming only, a buyout deal would have been negotiated.
But the hybrid release from Disney left the actress, and any others involved with backend bonus deals, at a disadvantage. Any streaming opening could impact theatrical box office, meaning bonus benchmarks — which usually begin around the $500 million threshold, depending on the deal — may not be hit. (Both Stone and the movie’s players were under contracts for a film made for a theatrical distribution.)
And when Cruella opened, it was not an obvious contender for a sequel, at least not judging by traditional box office numbers alone. The movie has generated only $221 million worldwide, $85.8 million of it domestically. And because the studio doesn’t release streaming numbers, that audience number is unknown.
But the movie became a hit with critics and getting Stone back became a top priority for the studio, which was wanting to show it was talent friendly and could compete with the likes of Netflix, according to a source.
The deal was made on the highest executive level with Disney Studios chairman Alan Bergman working the studio side while Endeavor executive chairman Patrick Whitesell ran point for the agency. In fact, one could say that the mantra of Disney’s new deal could be described as Cruella to be kind, in the right measure.
Even with Stone now on board, a sequel could be a ways away. Gillespie still needs to close his deal, and scribe Tony McNamara isn’t available to begin writing until early in the new year, sources say.
A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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