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Film / The Founder

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Founder's, keepers.

Ray Kroc: A glorious name, "McDonald's." I had to have it.
Richard "Dick" McDonald: You don't "have it."
Ray Kroc: sure about that?

The Founder is a 2016 biopic starring Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, the alleged founder of McDonald's.

At the age of 52, Ray Kroc is an over-the-hill milkshake machine salesman. That is, until he makes a significant delivery to a small burger restaurant in Southern California called "McDonald's." Run by brothers Mac and Dick, Ray is quickly captivated by their revolutionary method of food production, utilizing an assembly line to prepare meals in seconds rather than minutes. At his insistence, the restaurant begins to franchise and soon becomes one of the most recognized brands in the world.


This film contains examples of:

  • 20% More Awesome:
    Dick: These fries are five percent too crisp.
  • Adapted Out: Certain people are excised from the film.
    • There's no mention of Ronald McDonald.
    • Ray's second wife, Jane Dobbins.
    • The McDonald brothers had already licensed the McDonald's name to another company before Ray signed on, and he had to buy the rights back before starting his franchising plan.
  • Age-Gap Romance: Ray Kroc and Joan Smith, falling just short of May–December Romance by a couple of years. In real-life, they were 26 years apart, first meeting when Joan was in her late-twenties and Kroc in his mid-fifties. There's a similar age gap by the actors, with 24 years separating Micheal Keaton and Linda Cardellini.
  • The Alcoholic: Ray Kroc, though it's downplayed. He's rarely seen without a bottle or flask of Canadian Club within reach, but it's not shown to have any negative effect on him that his pursuit of wealth and power didn't have already. The Real Life Ray Kroc battled alcoholism throughout his life.
  • Advertisement:
  • And That's Terrible: The use of powdered milk shakes to save money instead of using ice cream is lamblasted by the brothers. We all know it'll be retired anyway.
  • Angry Chef: The McDonald Brothers. While some of their grievances could be seen as legitimate, most of the time they act hostile and contrarian for no particular reason.
  • Anti-Hero: Ray Kroc is a sympathetic guy at the beginning of the film, but he becomes increasingly vain and predatory in his practices as time goes on, and the film makes the McDonald brothers out to be victims.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: The credits go over Ray's rise to power, the fate of his underlings, how the McDonald's brothers got screwed over, and the very last frame confirms that yes, McDonald's starts using ice cream again in their milkshakes.
  • Artistic License – History: The film takes a number of liberties with the real story. For example, in the film, Joan and Rollie introduce Ray to instant milk shake mix, which infuriates Dick and Mac. In reality, Ray was already familiar with shake mix from his days as a milkshake salesman, and the brothers had already been bought out of the company at this point.
  • Awesome, but Impractical:
    • Drive-ins, to the brothers and Ray. The brothers' drive-in tapers off in profits as the business model requires a large staff, silverware and dishes, and drawing primarily raucous teenagers at the expense of other demographics, which results in a rowdy place to eat with long wait times and inattentive servers. So the brothers come up with dispensing with carhops and most of their menu, and redesign the restaurant to be a more approachable establishment for families.
    • From a strictly business perspective, many of the McDonalds brothers terms insisting on quality over quantity (such as demanding the use of ice cream in the milkshakes over powder) fall here — they make the products taste better and are more natural, but they are also more expensive, harder to store and eat into the profits of the franchisees.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: While not entirely evil, Ray isn't exactly a saint either. By the end of the movie, he essentially gets everything he wants.
  • Based on a True Story: Based on the early years of McDonald's.
  • Bittersweet Ending: McDonald's is a rousing success! Kroc is a celebrated business tycoon who lives happily with the new wife he stole from a business partner. In the process, the McDonald brothers have been used and screwed out of their share of the profits, and Kroc's ex-wife gets no piece of the empire after all her years of standing by him.
  • Blasphemous Boast: Ray compares the Golden Arches to both the American Flag and the Christian cross, and suggests that McDonald's could be as equal of a communal point in society as a church.
  • Book-Ends: The film begins and ends with Ray facing the camera trying to give a speech and with a heavy emphasis on persistence.
  • Burger Fool: While based on a burger joint, the focus is not on the people actually making the burgers and so this trope is averted, believe it or not.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Downplayed since he's mostly doing legal actions, but Ray becomes rather slimy and willing to rewrite history for the sake of money and fame.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Dick McDonald. Kind of a given when portrayed by Nick Offerman.
  • The Determinator: Ray will stop at nothing to own McDonald's. Persistence is the film's key motif.
  • Didn't Think This Through:
    • Thrice during the brothers' story. They initially planned to bring their stand wholesale into San Bernardino before realizing that the city's main road was fronted by a bridge too low to drive under with the stand in tow, forcing them to literally halve the building. Second, their opening day as a walk-up was a disaster, as they assumed wrongly that customers would understand to leave their car to place their order, causing massive confusion in the lot. Then when they had a grand re-opening with spotlights adorning the parking lot, they attracted a biblical amount of flies to the lights and drove everyone away in panic.
    • Ray when he signs his contract. He has no power over how the franchises are run and agreed to take a percentage which will barely cover his operating costs.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: While Dick is revamping the Speedee System on a tennis court, he's standing on a ladder waving a yardstick around to direct the employees. He looks just like he's conducting a symphony.
  • Dramatic Irony: Of the real-life sort. The McDonald brothers pride their business on impeccably cooked burgers, cleanliness, and service, unaware what awaits their brand in the future once Ray Kroc gets involved.
  • Evil Is Petty: Although calling Ray "evil" is an overstatement, after he gains full control of the franchises he buys the McDonald brothers out for a relatively small fee, and makes them a non-binding "handshake deal" to pay them 1% of corporate revenue annually knowing he'll never actually have to do it. He then uses a buried clause in the buyout contract to make them change the name of their restaurant, and builds his own McDonald's right across the street knowing it will knock them out of business. On top of that, he implies through Exact Words that he is, well, the founder of McDonald's and takes sole credit for the successful model. He also leaves his wife who stood by him through many failed ventures and had her house unknowingly mortgaged to finance the venture. He then makes sure she never sees any of the profits from the corporation.
  • Exact Words:
    • Ray Kroc was, in fact, the founder of The McDonald's Corporation — a separate legal entity that manages the land, supplies, marketing, etc. for the restaurant chain founded by the McDonald brothers.
    • When Ray agrees to buy out the brothers at the end of the film, one of the conditions the latter party states is that Kroc won't be able to acquire the San Bernardino location. Kroc agrees to this, but the conditions of the contract state that they won't be able to use any variation of the word "McDonalds", leading to them looking on sadly as the name is removed from the sign atop the restaurant. To add insult to injury, Kroc later expands the chain into San Bernardino anyway — at a site located right across the street from the original location.
  • Foregone Conclusion: We all know that McDonald's will become a fast food empire, Ray Kroc will rise to wealth and McDonald's will serve ice cream in their milkshakes again after the film makes a big deal of it.
  • Hard-Work Montage:
    • Dick McDonald when he refines the Speedee System on a tennis court with some chalk and his staff miming their jobs.
    • Ray Kroc when he goes from town to town pitching franchise opportunities to churches, synagogues, fraternal lodges, and basically anyone who will listen.
  • Hero Antagonist: As greed overtakes Ray and he starts making slimy and rotten moves, he becomes the villain of the piece and the McDonald brothers are the wholesome (non-powdered milk) heroes opposing him.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: The McDonald brothers. Obviously since they're brothers.
    • In real life Dick lived another 27 years after Mac died. Very sad when you see how close they were, and really were in real life.
  • How We Got Here: The McDonald brothers explain their legacy of businesses to Ray over dinner. Furthermore, the entire film also serves as one for Kroc's rise to power.
  • It Will Never Catch On: The brothers tell Ray their business model was not exactly a success out of the gate; customers got angry and confused when they realized they had to get out of their car to order and grab their food, causing Mac to immediately doubt their idea. Similarly, the brothers are dubious about Kroc's franchise plans, noting that there was no way to oversee quality control over restaurants beyond their reach and even the five already expanded beyond San Bernardino failed.
    • Ray Kroc complains to one of his franchisees about having lettuce on the hamburger. Years later several sandwiches would have lettuce on them.
    • The brothers pare down their menu to just burgers, fries, and drinks — which constituted 87% of their sales — to streamline service and wait times. McDonald's faced sales drops in The New '10s in part because of an overexpanded menu had amplified wait times and lousy customer service, forcing new brass to come in and pare down the menu again.
    • Kroc is furious when he finds out franchisees have added extraneous items to the menus without his consent, like fried chicken, corn on the cob, and biscuits. In the long history of McDonald's, nearly every attempt to expand outside their forte — pizza, spaghetti, buffalo wings, etc. — have been notorious, costly, abject failures.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Remember that the McDonald brothers were taking no risk in their franchising venture with Ray. Ray was putting up all the money, taking all the risk, and doing all the work. Furthermore, Dick McDonald was so timid in his business decisions that he vetoed every move Ray suggested to improve the franchises. The Brothers didn't have to do anything, and received royalty checks as a result. Ray (correctly) saw that they were sitting on a gold mine and that if they didn't act quickly someone else would just copy their model and become the dominant force in the fast food industry. Since the brothers essentially had all of the control with none of the risk, Ray felt justified in exploiting a loophole so he could take greater control of the franchises and vastly increase his profits. Unfortunately, many of his antics and later acts in this process just come across as Evil Is Petty.
  • Kick the Dog: The scene when Ray unloads on the McDonald brothers, describing in detail just how far he is willing to go to get what he wants. It also cements his Face–Heel Turn for the audience.
    Ray: If my competitor was drowning, you know what I'd do? I'd stick a hose in his mouth.
  • Loophole Abuse: How Ray begins to assume further control of the brand, by owning the land on which the restaurants stand rather than the restaurants themselves.
    Ray [to Dick]: Your control ends at the door, and at the floor.
  • Love at First Sight: When Ray Kroc and Joan Smith meet during an investment meeting, to the point it takes only mere minutes before Rollie Smith, Joan's husband, is clearly uncomfortable. After that, Ray's wife Ethel is an afterthought to him.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: When the usually mild mannered Mac finally grabs the phone from Dick and starts berating Ray. Unfortunately it causes him to go into diabetic shock.
  • Our Founder: While Ray Kroc is indeed the father of The McDonald's Corporation, it's treated as ironic when he starts calling himself the "Founder" as it's shown that he didn't found the original restaurant or the system that made it successful. The McDonald brothers bristle when they see his card.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    Ray: Mac, I'm the president and C.E.O. of a major corporation with land holdings in 17 states...You run a burger stand in the desert. I'm national. You're fucking local.
  • Principles Zealot: The McDonald brothers are portrayed as caring more about the ideas of their restaurant then practicalities. They want to make a good living, but only by adhering to strict standards of quality and ethics. Kroc, on the other hand, wants to build an empire by any means necessary.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: The whole film is about how Ray went from a salesman with an admirable work ethic and drive to succeed into a ruthless real estate owner who screws over his business partners.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Dick's Red to Mac's Blue. Dick is quick tempered and immediately suspicious that Kroc is more dangerous than he appears to be. Mac acts as an Audience Surrogate and is more calm and enthusiastic about Kroc. Eventually though, Kroc crosses a line that flares up the chill Mac and leads him to having a heart attack.
  • Scenery Porn: Ray's drive down Route 66 has a lot of scenic landscapes.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: "Contracts are like hearts. They're made to be broken." When the brothers reply that they'll sue, Ray tells them outright that they could try, and that if the case made it to court they would probably win, but also that he has so much money at this point that he can easily bury them in legal costs and they'd bankrupt themselves in the attempt.
  • Shown Their Work: The film really captures the 1950s scene with good immersion.
    • Similarly, there is a surprising amount of depth regarding entrepreneurship and the process of designing a new business venture.
  • Slowly Slipping Into Evil: Ray becomes more unhinged the further his empire grows, but the ending indicates that he may be feeling some remorse after all given the rather somber tone at the end.
  • Stating the Simple Solution: Near the end of the film, Dick McDonald asks Ray Kroc why he didn't just steal their idea. He had already been given the grand tour of how they do everything behind the counter, so it would have been simpler for him to start his own restaurant using their system. Ray Kroc then says that it's the "McDonald's" name that kept him from doing that, as nobody would want to eat at a place called "Kroc's".
  • Take That!: Dick McDonald not only rages about instant shake mix, but at the thought of a restaurant bearing his name using frozen French fries. While McDonald's has switched back to using real ice cream in their shakes, they have used frozen French fries for decades and continue to do so. Since Dick is presented as the moral center of the pre-Kroc chain, it comes across as a stinging jab at the company as it stands today.
    Dick: That's not what McDonald's is about. Not now, not ever!
  • Title Drop: Via business card at the film's conclusion, much to the dismay of the McDonald brothers.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The film ends in 1970. As this is a true story, the film informs the audience on what happened to the key players between then and 2016.

Example of: