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How McDonald’s Biopic ‘The Founder’ Went From Awards Contender to Flop

The glossy new Michael Keaton movie went belly-up on its first weekend in wide release


Over the last few years, Hollywood has been making a bunch of restaurant-themed films and TV shows, some of which — like Chef and The Hundred-Foot Journey — prove to be moderate critical and commercial hits, while others — like Burnt and Feed the Beast — land with a thud. Weinstein Co.’s The Founder falls in that latter category. Despite generally favorable reviews — including a four out of five star rating from Eater’s critic Joshua David Stein — the film about McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc landed in eleventh place at the box office on its first weekend in wide release, with a three-day gross around $3.4 million. That’s one of the lowest all-time openings for The Founder’s star Michael Keaton, whose career has been on a major uptick recently, with big roles in awards darlings Birdman and Spotlight.

Earlier this year, it looked like The Founder was also on the path toward awards glory, but the biopic didn’t land a single Golden Globe or Academy Award nomination. So why did this movie, a prestige pic about the origins of America’s most popular restaurant, flop so hard?

For one thing, the movie opened wide on a weekend crowded with popcorn flicks (Split and XXX) and other awards contenders who were already generating a ton of buzz (La La Land and Hidden Figures). The film’s release date also got shuffled around several times, which likely killed some of its momentum. The Founder was originally going to debut on November 25, a choice date smack dab in the middle of awards campaign season, but then Weinstein Co. decided to move its wide release to August 5 and drop another Oscars hopeful, Lion, in the post-Thanksgiving slot instead. A few weeks before its summer opening date, the powers that be decided to nudge it back to January 20, with an Oscars-qualifying December release in Los Angeles.

Back in July, When the last release reschedule was announced, Weinstein Co. COO David Glaser remarked: “This is a tour de force performance by Michael Keaton and he should be heavily into the Oscar and Golden Globe races for the movie.” But instead of appearing at the Globes to accept an award, Keaton attended as a presenter, where he made an embarrassing and highly publicized “Hidden Fences” flub — that certainly didn’t help the film’s prospects.

[Facebook/The Founder]

Vox film critic Alissa Wilkinson, who liked The Founder, agrees that the release date is partially to blame. “The movie got released in early January, which is a bad time for a movie (particularly a biopic) to gain traction — all of the awards nominees are still in theaters, and so it's not on anyone's radar,“ she says. Wilkinson also sees The Founder as an unusual entry into the food/restaurant category:

The Founder is an interesting case in that it's sort of the anti-chef movie, more about business than it is about food. Foodies probably aren't interested in a movie about McDonald's, and that seems like a hard sell overall to regular moviegoers who are still catching up on La La Land and Manchester By the Sea. Food-related movies are most appealing when the plot looks interesting, I think, because food doesn't in itself have a built in arc (as, say, sports).

The film likely won’t stick around theaters much longer, but it could find an audience on the streaming services, which are increasingly becoming hubs for food-focused films, documentaries, and series.

The Founder recasts the origins of McDonald's as the triumph and tragedy of American capitalism [Vox]
‘The Founder’ Tells a Double-Stacked Story of Betrayal and Avarice [E]

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