The Founder

The fascinating movie, 'The Founder' is based on the true story of a 1950s burger bar. Originally run by two brothers in southern California, it was soon to become a multi-billion-dollar empire.

Completed in 2016 and released in 2017, the biopic was praised by the critics for "turning capitalism into entertainment" with its depiction of the American dream. Interspersed with cut scenes showing genuine news footage of the day, the film has a documentary feel.


Starring Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, a struggling salesman from Illinois whose whole life is cold-calling restaurant owners to sell food mixers from his car boot, ‘The Founder’ sees Kroc meeting the McDonald brothers for the first time. He spots franchise potential in their efficient assembly-line system of preparing and serving food.

Starting out as quite a sorry character - a failing salesman who gains sympathy as he looks for one last chance - as the film progresses and he builds arguably the United States' best-known global enterprise, audience perception towards Kroc begins to change. The script cleverly blurs the lines, making it unclear whether he's the hero or the villain of the tale.


Written by Robert Siegel and directed by John Lee Hancock, 'The Founder' reveals how Kroc meets Richard 'Dick' McDonald (Nick Offerman) and Maurice 'Mac' McDonald (John Carroll Lynch). Jaded with his lack of success as a salesman, he goes home to wife Ethel (Laura Dern) for pep talks, as his life free-wheels downhill.

After meeting the McDonald brothers, through ambition, persistence and ruthlessness, Kroc uses their idea to create today's billion-dollar franchise chain - but he buys them out before McDonald's hits the big time.

Hero or villain?

The brothers seem naïve, letting Kroc expand the franchise into other states, despite not really agreeing with his profit-making schemes and fearing this will ruin the ethics of their self-contained labour of love.

Initially, they appear to view Kroc as a sad individual and are swept along with his dream of building a chain of fast food restaurants. However, when large sums of money start changing hands and documents are signed, it appears they regret their decision… but it's too late to do anything about it!

The script depicts Kroc as an embodiment of American business values: positive, smiling and believing capitalism is a virtue that helps society, with any casualties along the way being collateral damage. He repeats inspirational phrases he memorised from self-help literature, genuinely believing in them.


'The Founder', produced by independent studio The Weinstein Company, won the Capri Best Actor Award for Keaton's performance.

However, the critics were divided as to whether Kroc was really a hero, with some believing he came across as rather a seedy character who bought the company from the McDonald brothers at too low a price. Nor did they receive any royalties from the business's future success, leading to criticisms they had lost out due to Kroc failing to honour a 'gentleman's agreement'. Some described how they enjoyed the film, but simply couldn't like Kroc as a character.

Hancock said he was drawn to Kroc’s complex character when he read the script, as he liked the idea of first rooting for the character but then pulling against him. Laura Dern described it as the story of greed that can serve one person but impact on many.

Personal life

In his personal life, Kroc ended up divorcing second wife Ethel and marrying Joan (played by Linda Cardellini). He became a philanthropist, setting up a foundation that supported research and treatment of various medical conditions, such as alcoholism and diabetes.

He also established the Ronald McDonald House foundation to support sick children and their families. He died in 1984 at the age of 81.

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