Michael Keaton’s Most Overlooked Movie Is A Streaming Success

Michael Keaton's McDonald's film The Founder is currently in the top ten most-watched movies on Netflix.

By Nathan Kamal | Published

michael keaton
The Founder

Ever since Michael Keaton uttered the fateful phrase “I’m Batman” in 1989, he has been doomed to be the one character in the public eye. Despite his brilliant career as both a comic leading man and a superlative dramatic actor, it is telling that the Internet recently exploded at just a few seconds of him back in the pointy cowl. Fortunately, it also seems to have raised awareness of one of his best and most overlooked movies, 2017’s The Founder, which is currently in the top ten most-watched movies on Netflix.

The Founder stars Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, the man most associated with the success of the McDonald’s fast food chain, one of the most iconic brands in the history of the world. Over the film, we see Kroc shepherd a single local burger restaurant to a company that feeds almost 70 million people around the world every single today (as of 2022). On paper, the story of Michael Keaton in The Founder is a classic American make-good story, that of a man who has a dream and perseveres no matter what. 

michael keaton

However, that is not exactly what we see with Michael Keaton in The Founder. The film was written by Robert Siegel, the man behind dark, gritty character examinations like Welcome to Chippendales and The Wrestler, and it is no less psychologically intense just because it has to do with the Golden Arches. The movie is based on both authorized and unauthorized biographies of Ray Kroc, but it is Michael Keaton’s performance as a man aware of his limitations but grimly determined to work around them that makes it a classic.

The Founder introduces Michael Keaton’s Ray Kroc in the mid-1950s as an unsuccessful traveling salesman attempting to sell milkshake machines to crummy drive-ins and hot dog shacks. A chance opportunity for an unusually large sale leads him to San Bernadino, California, and Mac and Dick McDonald (John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman), the actual founders and designers of the original McDonald’s restaurant. Although the brothers are initially uninterested in Michael Keaton’s idea to franchise their restaurant (having unsuccessfully attempted it already), he manages to work his way into the organization and ceaselessly undermines them.

michael keaton

Much of The Founder is spent illustrating exactly what made McDonald’s the cultural behemoth that it is, from its innovative, assembly-line food production system to the land-leasing contracts that made it one of the largest real estate owners in the world. But it never loses sight of the fact that Michael Keaton’s Ray Kroc is a man who will stop at nothing to assume control of McDonald’s by any means necessary, without ever painting him as a Succession-style corporate monster.

The Founder was released during a renaissance in Michael Keaton’s career, which included an Academy Award nomination for Birdman, critical applause for Spotlight, and joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Spider-Man: Homecoming. However, The Founder had the misfortune to be released just before its distributor, the once-powerful Weinstein Company was hit by a number of sexual assault allegations and lawsuits. It became a casualty of the bankruptcy of the company and slipped through the cracks of award season, but it (and Michael Keaton) deserved so much more.