The Founder

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The Founder
The Founder poster.png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Lee Hancock
Written byRobert Siegel
Produced by
CinematographyJohn Schwartzman
Edited byRobert Frazen
Music byCarter Burwell
Distributed byThe Weinstein Company
Release dates
  • December 7, 2016 (2016-12-07) (Arclight Hollywood)
  • January 20, 2017 (2017-01-20) (United States)
Running time
115 minutes[1]
  • United States
Budget$7–25 million[2][3][4]
Box office$24.1 million[5]

The Founder is a 2016 American biographical drama film directed by John Lee Hancock and written by Robert Siegel. Starring Michael Keaton as businessman Ray Kroc, the film portrays the story of his creation of the McDonald's fast-food restaurant chain, which eventually involved forcing out the company's original founders to take control with conniving ruthlessness. Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch co-star as McDonald's founders Richard and Maurice McDonald, alongside Linda Cardellini as Ray Kroc's third wife Joan Smith, and B. J. Novak as McDonald's president and chief executive Harry J. Sonneborn.[6]

The film premiered at Arclight Hollywood on December 7, 2016, and was released theatrically in the United States on January 20, 2017, by the Weinstein Company. It grossed $24 million worldwide and received generally positive reviews from critics, who praised Keaton's performance.


In 1954, Ray Kroc is a traveling milkshake machine salesman. While he and his supportive wife Ethel have saved enough money to live a comfortable life in Arlington Heights, Illinois, he craves more. Ray also observes that many of the drive-in restaurants that he tries to sell to are inefficiently run. After learning that a drive-in in San Bernardino is ordering an unusually large number of milkshake mixers, Ray drives to California to see it. What he finds is McDonald's—a popular walk-up restaurant with fast service, high-quality food, disposable packaging and a family-friendly atmosphere.

Ray meets with the two McDonald brothers, Maurice "Mac" and Richard "Dick" McDonald. They give Ray a tour of the kitchen and he notes the employees' strong work ethic. Ray is astounded with the restaurant, and takes the brothers to dinner. They tell him the origin story of McDonald's and how they came to design their "fast food" system. The next day, Ray suggests that the brothers franchise the restaurant, but they hesitate, pointing out that they already tried, only to have encountered altered menus, variable quality of food and even dirty kitchens. Ray persists and eventually convinces the brothers to allow him to lead their franchising efforts on the condition that he agrees to a strict contract, which requires all changes to be subject to the McDonald brothers' approval.

Initially, Ray begins building a McDonald's restaurant in Des Plaines, Illinois, while attempting to entice wealthy investors (specifically fellow members at his country club) to open franchises, but encounters the same poor management ethic which doomed the original franchise efforts. After encountering a Bible salesman who's Jewish, Ray hits on the idea of franchising to middle-class investors, who have more incentive to be hands-on and are willing to follow the McDonald's formula. This proves successful, and new franchises begin opening across the Midwest, with Ray representing himself as the creator of McDonald's and Fred Turner, a burger cook at the Des Plaines restaurant who caught Ray's eye on the grill, as his associate. During this time, Ray meets Rollie Smith, an upscale restaurant owner in Minnesota who wishes to invest, and Rollie's wife, Joan, to whom Ray is immediately attracted.

Despite his success, Ray begins to encounter personal financial difficulties as he has expanded so rapidly but his share of franchise profits are limited due to his contract, which the McDonald brothers decline to renegotiate. He gets 1.4% and brothers get nearer 0.5%. Meanwhile, the owners are encountering higher than expected costs, particularly for refrigeration of large amounts of ice cream for milkshakes. Joan suggests a powdered milkshake as a way to avoid these costs, but the brothers consider it degrading to their food quality. Ray's wife is upset by a visit from the bank;his mortgage is three months' late and she did not know Ray had mortgaged their house. Harry Sonneborn, a financial consultant, asks to review Ray's books after overhearing his conversation at the bank. Sonneborn realizes that the real profit opportunity is in providing real estate to the franchisees, which will not only provide a revenue stream, but give Ray leverage over his franchisees and the brothers. Ray incorporates a new company, Franchise Realty Corporation, and attracts new investors. This allows him to open new restaurants without the brothers' approval. This upsets the brothers and emboldens Ray: he increasingly defies them by circumventing their authority and providing powdered milkshakes to all franchisees, but not their restaurant. Ray also divorces his wife, Ethel, who gets all his assets except any shares in his business.

Ray renames the company the McDonald's Corporation and demands to be released from his contract and buy the McDonald brothers out, the news of which sends Mac into diabetic shock. Ray visits him in the hospital and offers a blank check to settle their business. The brothers agree to a $2.7 million lump sum payment (equivalent to $26 million in 2020), ownership of their original restaurant in San Bernardino, and a 1% annual royalty, but when the time comes to finalize the agreement, Ray refuses to include the royalty in the settlement and instead offers it as a handshake deal. Afterwards, Dick confronts Ray and asks why he had to take over their business, when he could have easily stolen their idea and recreated it. Ray argues that the true value of McDonald's is the name itself, which expresses all the attributes of Americana.

The McDonald brothers are forced to take their own name off the original restaurant and Ray opens a new McDonald's franchise directly across the street, finally putting the brothers out of business. The film ends in 1970, where Ray prepares a speech in his elaborate mansion with his new wife: Joan, now divorced from Rollie Smith. In the speech, Ray, plagiarizing heavily from a motivational speech he heard earlier in the film, praises himself for his success. He states that he was able to achieve it, not through talent or a strong work ethic, but through persistence.

An epilogue reveals that the McDonald brothers were never paid their royalties, which would have eventually been in the area of $100 million a year, and that every day McDonald's feeds approximately 1% of the Earth's population.



The screenplay for The Founder was written by Robert Siegel, based on Ray Kroc's autobiography and an unauthorized biography.[7] According to early reports, the film was to be developed in the same vein as There Will Be Blood and The Social Network. According to Deadline Hollywood, it was ranked the 13th-best unproduced script of 2014.[8][9] In December 2014, John Lee Hancock was signed to direct the picture.[10]


In February 2015, Michael Keaton was signed to the role of Ray Kroc.[11] Laura Dern joined the film on May 11, 2015 to play Kroc's wife Ethel Fleming, whom Kroc divorced in 1961.[12] The next day, it was announced that Nick Offerman joined the film, set to play Richard "Dick" McDonald.[13] On May 28, 2015, it was announced that B. J. Novak joined the film as Kroc's financial consultant, Harry J. Sonneborn.[14] On June 9, 2015, it was reported that Linda Cardellini had joined the film,[15] and on June 26, 2015, it was announced that John Carroll Lynch and Patrick Wilson had also been cast.[16]


Principal photography for the film began in Newnan, Georgia on June 1, 2015.[17][18] Production designer Michael Corenblith had previously worked on films such as Apollo 13, Saving Mr. Banks and The Blind Side in which attention to historic detail was important. Corenblith worked from archival photos, training films, materials provided by the McDonald family, blueprints obtained from eBay and research at the oldest McDonald's restaurant in Downey, California. The McDonald brothers' original octagonal San Bernardino restaurant was built in Newnan in the parking lot of the Coweta County administration building.[19]

After a month of searching for a suitable location, an old-style McDonald's building set with the "golden arches" was constructed in a church parking lot in seven working days in Douglasville, Georgia.[20] The set included a working kitchen with period-accurate kitchen equipment that was brought up to current code. Rearrangement of exterior features such as parking lot striping allowed that set to serve as each franchise location portrayed in the film. Both interior and exterior portions of the restaurant were modular, allowing countertops or entire wall sized glass panes to be removed to make room for cameras and other equipment.[21][22]

The J. Mack Robinson College of Business Administration Building in downtown Atlanta, which houses a Bank of America branch, served as the Illinois First Federal Savings & Loan association building.[21] Some interior sets were built on soundstages at EUE Screen Gems Studios in Atlanta. Atlanta's East Lake Golf Club served as Rolling Green Country Club in the film.[23][24]


On March 2, 2015, The Weinstein Company paid $7 million for the film's distribution rights.[25] On March 26, 2015, the studio set the film for a November 25, 2016 release date.[26] In March 2016, the film was moved up to August 5, 2016.[27] On July 13, 2016, the film's release date was delayed until a limited December 16, 2016 date, followed by a wide release on January 20, 2017.[28] The film ultimately opened in the United States at Arclight Hollywood on December 7, 2016, in order to qualify for the 2017 Oscars.[29]

In February 2017, FilmNation Entertainment, one of the film's production companies, sued The Weinstein Company for $15 million. The Weinstein Company released Gold on January 27, 2017, a week after The Founder, which FilmNation claimed was a breach of contract, saying the two companies had an agreement that no Weinstein Company film would be released within a week before or after The Founder.[3][4]


Box office[edit]

The Founder grossed $12.8 million in the United-States and Canada and $11.3 million in others territories, for a worldwide total of $24.1 million.[5]

In North America, the film was expected to gross $3 million from 1,115 theaters in its opening weekend.[30] It ended up earning $3.8 million, finishing 9th at the box office.[31] In its second week, the film made $2.6 million, a drop of 23.4%.[32]

Critical response[edit]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 81% based on 243 reviews, with a weighted average of 6.90/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "The Founder puts Michael Keaton's magnetic performance at the center of a smart, satisfying biopic that traces the rise of one of America's most influential businessmen – and the birth of one of its most far-reaching industries."[33] On Metacritic, the film holds a weighted average score 66 out of 100, based on 47 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[34] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[2]

Rolling Stone magazine's Peter Travers gave the film three out of four stars, stating that director Hancock and screenwriter Siegel did "strive hard – and mostly succeed – at keeping Hollywood sentiment out of the storytelling.... Set more than a half century ago, The Founder proves to be a movie for a divisive here and now. Step right up. You might just learn something."[35]'s Matt Zoller Seitz gave the film three out of four stars, stating that despite the film over-relying on exposition and failing to skillfully incorporate Ray Kroc's personal life into the narrative, "I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought about The Founder constantly since seeing it... It's an ad that becomes a warning before circling around and becoming another, darker kind of advertisement, and one of the most intriguing and surprising things about The Founder is that, in the end, it seems vaguely ashamed of itself for letting this happen".[36]


Year Award Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
2016 Capri Awards Best Actor Won
2017 AARP Movies for Grownups Awards Best Time Capsule
The Founder
Nominated [37]
Best Actor Nominated
Best Buddy Picture Nominated


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  2. ^ a b Tom Brueggemann (January 22, 2019). "Top Ten Box Office Takeaways: M. Night Shyamalan Returns with 'Split'". IndieWire. Retrieved April 1, 2019.
  3. ^ a b "The Weinstein Co. Sued Over Distribution Of 'The Founder' By FilmNation And Its Subsidiary". Deadline Hollywood. February 8, 2017. Retrieved February 20, 2017.
  4. ^ a b "Weinstein Co. sued over release dates for 'The Founder' and 'Gold'". Los Angeles Times. February 8, 2017. Retrieved February 20, 2017.
  5. ^ a b "The Founder (2016)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved October 12, 2017.
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  10. ^ "John Lee Hancock Plans McDonald's History Story, The Founder". December 10, 2014. Retrieved March 3, 2015.
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  12. ^ Kit, Borys (May 11, 2015). "Laura Dern in Talks to Join Michael Keaton in McDonald's Mogul Biopic (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved May 12, 2015.
  13. ^ Kit, Borys (May 12, 2015). "Nick Offerman Joins Micheal Keaton in McDonald's Mogul Biopic (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 19, 2017.
  14. ^ Kit, Borys (May 28, 2015). "B.J. Novak Joins Michael Keaton in McDonald's Founder Biopic (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 16, 2017.
  15. ^ McNary, Dave (June 9, 2015). "Linda Cardellini Joins Michael Keaton in McDonald's Drama 'The Founder'". Variety. Retrieved January 19, 2017.
  16. ^ Hipes, Patrick (June 26, 2015). "John Carroll Lynch On 'The Founder' Menu; Gwendoline Christie Joins 'Swallows & Amazons'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved January 19, 2017.
  17. ^ "On the Set for 6/1/15: James Gunn Starts Shooting 'The Belko Experiment', Michael Keaton Begins Mcdonald's Biopic 'The Founder' & More". SSN Insider. June 1, 2015. Archived from the original on April 22, 2016. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
  18. ^ Bernarde, Scott (June 3, 2015). "Movie Shoot in Douglasville Begins Next Week". Retrieved June 6, 2015.
  19. ^ "'The Founder' movie to open Friday". The Newnan Times-Herald.
  20. ^ Corley, Laura (May 28, 2015). "Golden Arches Are Going Up". Douglas County Sentinel. Archived from the original on April 27, 2017. Retrieved June 6, 2015.
  21. ^ a b "How the earliest McDonald's restaurants were recreated for Michael Keaton's new movie". Business Insider.
  22. ^ Writer, Laura Corley / Staff. "Golden arches are going up". Douglas County Sentinel. Archived from the original on April 27, 2017. Retrieved June 6, 2015.
  23. ^ Gire, Dann (January 21, 2017). "Here's how the film 'The Founder' recreated spots that featured in McDonald's founder Ray Kroc's life". Christian Science Monitor.
  24. ^ Mordan, Laura (January 6, 2017). "The Founder Set Design: See What the First McDonald's Burger Joint Looked Like in 1954 | Architectural Digest". Architectural Digest.
  25. ^ "Weinstein Co. Buys Michael Keaton's McDonald's Movie 'The Founder'". Variety. March 2, 2015. Retrieved March 3, 2015.
  26. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (March 26, 2015). "Michael Keaton Starrer 'The Founder' Gets Release Date; Focus World Rounds Out 2015 Slate". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved April 6, 2015.
  27. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (March 1, 2016). "Weinstein Co.'s 'The Founder' Moves To August; 'Lion' To Roar During Thanksgiving Week". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved March 1, 2016.
  28. ^ Coggan, Devan (July 13, 2016). "Michael Keaton's McDonald's movie The Founder gets awards season release date". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved July 13, 2016.
  29. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (December 6, 2016). "Weinstein Co.'s McDonald's Movie 'The Founder' Will Open Doors Early". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved December 6, 2016.
  30. ^ "'Split' And 'xXx' Merge Into Market While 'The Founder' May Get Lost In Heavy Traffic – Box Office Preview". Deadline Hollywood. January 17, 2017.
  31. ^ "Uni/Blumhouse's 'Split' Is A Hit With High $39M To $40M+; 'Xander Cage' Falls Down". Deadline Hollywood. January 23, 2017.
  32. ^ "Is Controversy Impacting 'A Dog's Purpose' At The Box Office?". Deadline Hollywood. January 29, 2017.
  33. ^ "The Founder (2017)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 2, 2019.
  34. ^ "The Founder reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved February 5, 2017.
  35. ^ Travers, Peter (January 18, 2017). "'The Founder' Review: Michael Keaton Makes a Happy Meal of McDonalds Biopic". Rolling Stone. Retrieved January 19, 2017.
  36. ^ Seitz, Matt Zoller (January 19, 2017). "The Founder Movie Review & Film Summary". Retrieved January 19, 2017.
  37. ^ Rahman, Abid (December 15, 2016). "Denzel Washington's 'Fences' Leads Nominations for AARP's Movies for Grownups Awards". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 26, 2016.

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