The Founder The Founder
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The Founder

The Founderis 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 $23 million worldwide and received generally positive reviews from critics, with praise for Keaton's performance.

Ray Kroc is a traveling salesman selling Prince Castle brand milkshake makers in 1954. While he has a supportive wife, Ethel, and has saved enough to live a simple comfortable life in Arlington Heights, Illinois , he craves more. After learning that a drive-in in San Bernardino is ordering an unusually large number of milkshake makers, 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" McDonald and Richard "Dick" McDonald. Ray tours the kitchens and notes the employees' strong work ethic. Dick explains the high-quality food and lightning-fast service are the backbones of their diner. 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 and discovers that they had previously attempted to do so only to encounter absentee owners and inconsistent standards which ultimately led to the failure of the endeavor. 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 the country club he and Ethel were members of) to open franchises, but encounters the same poor management ethic which doomed the original franchise efforts. Ray hits on the idea of franchising to middle-class investors, who are more likely to be hands-on and 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. 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 refuse to compromise the quality of their food. With his debts mounting and the threat of foreclosure on his house (as he had mortgaged it for extra capital), Ray goes to his bank to attempt to renegotiate his loan, but it refuses. Fortunately, he is overheard by Harry Sonneborn , a financial consultant for Tastee-Freez , who agrees to review Ray's books. He 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 over the McDonald brothers. Ray incorporates a new company, Franchise Realty Corporation, and attracts new investors.

Emboldened, Ray begins to increasingly defy the McDonald brothers and circumvent their authority, including by providing powdered milkshakes to all franchisees. Ray renames his company to The McDonald's Corporation and demands to be released from his contract and buy the 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 agreement. Afterwards, Dick asks Ray why he had to take over their business, when he could have easily stolen their idea and recreated it. Ray reveals 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 name off the original restaurant and Ray opens a new McDonald's franchise directly across the street from the original restaurant to finally put the McDonald brothers out of business. The film closes in 1970 with him 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.

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