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The Founder Theatrical release posterDirected by John Lee HancockProduced by
The Founder is a 2016 American biographical drama film directed by John Lee Hancock and written by Robert Siegel. The film stars Michael Keaton as businessman Ray Kroc, and portrays the story of his creation of the McDonald's fast food chain. Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch co-star as McDonald's founders Richard and Maurice McDonald.
The film premiered at Arclight Hollywood on December 7, 2016 and was released in the United States on January 20, 2017, by The Weinstein Company. It grossed only $24 million worldwide against a budget of $25 million, but received generally positive reviews from critics, with praise for Keaton's performance.Contents
In 1954, Ray Kroc is an unsuccessful traveling salesman selling Prince Castle brand milkshake mixers. While he has a supportive wife, Ethel, and has saved enough to live a simple and 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, with a long waiting time for orders and carhops more concerned with avoiding the groping from greasers than getting the orders right. 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 highly 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. Mac gives Ray a tour of the kitchens and he notes the employees' strong work ethic. Dick explains the high-quality food and lightning-fast service are the backbones of their restaurant. Ray takes the brothers to dinner and is told the origin story of McDonald's. The next day, Ray suggests that the brothers franchise the restaurant, but they hesitate; pointing out that they already tried, only to have encountered absentee franchisees who were lackadaisical in upholding their system. Ray persists and eventually convinces the brothers to allow him to lead their franchising efforts on the condition that he agree to a contract which requires all changes to receive the McDonald brothers' approval in writing.
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 dedicated Bible salesman who is 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. During this time, Ray meets Rollie Smith, an upscale restaurant owner in Minnesota who wishes to invest, and his wife Joan, to whom Ray is immediately attracted.
Despite his success, Ray begins to encounter financial difficulties as his share of franchise profits is limited due to his contract, a share that the McDonald brothers decline to renegotiate. The brothers also refuse to allow the use of sponsorships for fear of ruining the image of their restaurants. Meanwhile, the owners are encountering higher than expected costs, particularly for refrigeration of large quantities of ice cream for milkshakes. Joan suggests a powdered milkshake to Ray as a way to avoid these costs, but the brothers consider it degrading to their food quality. Ray is also called to the bank as his mortgage is past due, but this is overheard by Harry Sonneborn, a financial consultant for Tastee-Freez, who requests to review Ray's books. 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 move upsets the brothers and emboldens Ray: he increasingly defies them by circumventing their authority and providing powdered milkshakes to all franchisees. Ray also divorces Ethel, who gets all his assets except any shares in his business.
Ray renames his company to 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, 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, in the men's room, Dick asks Ray 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 (as opposed to his Czech Slavic-sounding name of Kroc).
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 closes in 1970 with Ray preparing a speech where he praises himself for his success in his elaborate mansion with his new wife, Joan. An epilogue reveals that the McDonald brothers were never paid their royalties, which could have been in the area of $100 million a year.Cast
The screenplay for The Founder was written by Robert Siegel, based on Ray Kroc's autobiography, and on an unauthorized biography. 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. In December 2014, John Lee Hancock was signed to direct the picture.Casting
In February 2015, Michael Keaton was signed to the role of Ray Kroc. Laura Dern joined the film on May 11, 2015, to play Kroc's wife, Ethel Fleming, whom Kroc divorced in 1961. The next day, it was announced that Nick Offerman joined the film, set to play Richard "Dick" McDonald. On May 28, 2015, it was announced that B. J. Novak joined the film as Kroc's financial consultant, Harry J. Sonneborn. On June 9, 2015, it was reported that Linda Cardellini had joined the film, and on June 26, 2015, it was announced that John Carroll Lynch and Patrick Wilson had also been cast.Filming
Principal photography on the film began in Newnan, Georgia, on June 1, 2015. Production designer Michael Corenblith had previously worked on films such as Apollo 13, Saving Mr. Banks and The Blind Side, where 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.
After a month of searching for 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. 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.
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 for the film. Some interior sets such as the McDonald's' offices and Kroc's "Prince Castle Sales" interior 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.Release
On March 2, 2015, The Weinstein Company paid $7 million for the film's distribution rights. On March 26, 2015, the studio set the film for a November 25, 2016 release date. In March 2016, the film was moved up to August 5, 2016. 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. The film ultimately opened in the United States at Arclight Hollywood on December 7, 2016, in order to qualify for the 2016 Oscars, before expanding wide on January 20.
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.Reception Box office
The Founder grossed $12.8 million in the United States and Canada and $11.2 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $24 million.
In North America, the film was expected to gross $3 million from 1,115 theaters in its opening weekend. It ended up earning $3.8 million, finishing 9th at the box office. In its second week, the film made $2.6 million, a drop of 23.4%.Critical response
On review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 83% based on 203 reviews, with a weighted average of 7/10. The site'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." On Metacritic, the film holds a score 66 out of 100, based on 47 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Rolling Stone magazine's Peter Travers gave the film three out of four stars, stating that director Hancock and screenwriter Siegel "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." RogerEbert.com's Matt Zoller Seitz gave the film three out of four stars, stating that despite the film overly 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".Accolades Year Award Category Recipient(s) Result Ref. 2016 Capri Awards Best Actor Michael Keaton Won 2017 AARP Movies for Grownups Awards Best Time Capsule The Founder Nominated  Best Actor Michael Keaton Nominated Best Buddy Picture John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman Nominated References