Plastic-Free Oscars: 9 Award-Winning Films That Pass the Begley-Cohen Test

In Hollywood, the most important season is awards season, typically kicked off by the Golden Globes in January and culminating in March with the pinnacle of all film awards, The Oscars. While folks are busy catching up on the nominated films and guessing who might take home the ultimate award of Best Picture, at Plastic Pollution Coalition, we have another question on our minds: which award-worthy films are also plastic-free and plastic-aware?

To honor this year’s 95th anniversary of the Academy Awards, we decided to look back at some of our favorite best picture winners, as well as this years top contenders, to find 9 films that are great examples of how a movie can pass The Begley-Cohen Test and to help audiences and creators alike better see how we can work to Flip the Script on Plastics.

What does it look like if we shift the lens we use to look at films and their stories and narratives? How does a world free of single-use plastics and of plastic pollution look? What if we could note this whenever we saw it exemplified before our very eyes? Well, now we can identify this!

What is The Begley-Cohen Test?

Inspired by and modeled after the Bechdel-Wallace Test, which is used to measure female representation in media, The Begley-Cohen Test is designed to help audiences quickly assess the representation and prevalence of single-use plastic within the content they consume.

A film or TV show passes The Begley-Cohen Test if…

(1) No single-use plastics appear on screen (i.e., the film/show is set in a time with no plastic, or plastics are replaced with refillable, reusable, or package-free options), or…

(2) When a single-use plastic item appears on screen, it is portrayed or discussed as problematic.
With these films, we identified four categories for passing the Begley-Cohen Test: Time Period, Commentary, No Single-use Plastics, and Satire. While the majority of films that pass fall into the time period category, the ones we picked also highlight reusable and sustainable practices that help remind audiences that plastic is the least attractive option. We hope that showcasing the way past films have avoided plastic will encourage future filmmakers to find ways to pass in all categories.

1. All Quiet on the Western Front – Best Picture Winner 1930/1931 & Best Picture Nominee 2023

Plastic Free Oscars
All Quiet on the Western Front, 2022, Amusement Park

A hauntingly stark look at the harsh realities of World War I, All Quiet on the Western Front is set in a time when plastics were just beginning to be introduced to the world. This story of The Great War is so striking that it was remade both in 1975 and again from the German perspective just last year, which landed it once again as a contender for Best Picture as well as Best International Picture. While we would never want to relive these harrowing battles, the reusable mess tins carried by soldiers on both sides remind us there are some items from history worth replicating today. All Quiet on the Western Front won four Oscars on Sunday night, for international feature, cinematography, original score, and production design.

2. The Artist – Best Picture Winner 2012

Plastic Free Oscars
The Artist, 2011, Warner Bros. France

The change from silent films to ‘talkies’ was hard for many in Hollywood, and the subject of a number of films, including plastic-free Best Picture winner The Artist. The film follows a silent film star struggling to maintain his fame as Hollywood grows noisier around him. While the introduction of single-use plastics to movie sets and screens likely wasn’t as sudden or noticeable to stars as the introduction of recorded dialogue, the change was monumental. Today, a 60-day shoot can use roughly 39,000 water bottles, as reported by the Producers Guild, and while there may have been plastic behind the scenes in The Artist, it certainly didn’t exist on the fictional sets of the film. This proves as a good example that going back to our old ways, in cases like water use, might not be such a bad idea.

3. The Banshees of Inisherin – Best Picture Nominee 2023

The Banshees of Inisherin, 2022, Searchlight Pictures

Losing your favorite drinking buddy can be hard to handle, as writer/director Martin McDonagh deftly displays in the beautiful, witty, and heart-wrenching Best Picture nominee The Banshees of Inisherin. Set on a remote Irish island in 1923, there was no plastics to be avoided, but plenty of homespun goods and reusables abound that help give the film its distinctive Irish charm. With much of the story set in the local pub, the characters often have a pint glass or a glimmering bottle in their hands. But the filmmakers took the realism a step further by working with local octogenarian Delia Barry to help design the handmade wool sweaters donned by the stars of the film, meaning even the costumes made today avoided microplastics.

4. The Fabelmans – Best Picture Nominee 2023

The Fabelmans, 2022, Universal Pictures

Best Picture nominee The Fabelmans is one film on our list that doesn’t pass because it’s plastic-free, but instead passes because it is plastic-aware that it isn’t plastic-free. In this loosely autobiographical film from Steven Spielberg, the main character’s mother, played by Michelle Williams, is a pianist that goes to extreme measures to protect her hands. This includes avoiding dish washing by serving all her family’s meals on paper plates, with plastic utensils that she then wraps in a plastic tablecloth to be thrown out at the end of the meal. While they don’t directly address the harm this habit does to the environment, it does lead to a fight with extended family who find the habit distasteful. To us, this is a great example of plastic used as satire, allowing the unpleasant nature of plastic to create tension and drive the plot forward, a plastic-aware pass for The Begley-Cohen test.

5. Gladiator – Best Picture Winner 2001

Gladiator, 2000, DreamWorks Pictures

Ridley Scott’s historic epic and Best Picture winner Gladiator is the one film on our list set so far back in history that plastic as we know it hadn’t even been conceived. In fact, the word “plastic,” deriving from the ancient Greek πλαστικός (plastikós), simply meant “to mold” and had no ties to fossil fuels or pollution. Gladiator, like The Lord of the Rings, is an example that choosing a setting completely devoid of plastics remains the simplest way to pass The Begley-Cohen Test. With a sequel set for release in 2025, we’re pleased to have ironclad assurance that there’s one more movie to add to our pass list before we even have the pleasure of viewing it.

6. The Godfather Part I & Part II – Best Picture Winner 1973 & 1975

The Godfather Part II, 1974, Paramount Pictures

Often hailed as two of the best films of all time, we were thrilled to realize Best Pictures The Godfather Parts I & II could land the top spot on our list of plastic-free films. The time setting certainly helps Francis Ford Copolla’s mafia masterpieces pass The Begley-Cohen Test, but it’s the regular presence of reusables by the Corleone family that we really love. Leaning into the old world charm of their ancestral home in Italy, the mobsters of The Godfather are mostly found sitting at the bar, breaking bread around the table, or toasting at a party, and never once does a plastic straw touch their lips. With refillable bottles, jars, cans, bags, and more often decorating the background, The Godfather solidifies its place as one of the top dons of reusables on film.

7. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King – Best Picture Winner 2004

The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, 2003, New Line Cinema

In 1937, JRR Tolken first introduced us to one of the most beloved fantasy worlds of both page and screen. Since then, the wild success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy has demonstrated that setting your film in fantasy is a fun and easy way to avoid the plastic problem altogether. But it’s not just the lack of plastic in Middle Earth that makes us love Best Picture Return of the King—and its counterparts The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers—it’s the fact that these films regularly highlight cozy, refillable, and often homemade alternatives to plastic. From second breakfasts eaten with hand carved wooden spoons, reusable sacks for foraging mushrooms, and refillable water pouches strapped to their chests, the inhabitants of Middle Earth, and hobbits in particular, place great importance on the sanctity of food, and consuming it with reverence—another reason that The Lord of the Rings continues to enrapture audiences and leaves them wishing they could journey to Middle Earth.

8. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Best Picture Winner 1976

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, 1975, United Artists

Set in 1963, and filmed in the early 1970s, when plastic product was still low and slow, avoiding single-use plastics on set was likely a non-issue for the cast and crew of Best Picture One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Nowadays, the medical industry relies heavily on plastics, both single-use and otherwise, but One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest serves as a nice reminder that there was a time when you’d be hard pressed to find any single-use plastics in a medical facility. Watching Academy Award winner Louise Fletcher’s Nurse Ratched’s patients receive their meds in little paper cups has us wondering why we can’t do the same today.

9. Titanic – Best Picture Winner 1998

Titanic, 1997, Paramount Pictures

Celebrating its 25th anniversary, Titanic is a historic romance that holds a special place in many hearts. While the scenes on the Titanic pass The Begley-Cohen Test with ease, as it was still a time where even the lowest decks were given metal utensils and real cups with their meals, it was the modern day scenes where we had to take a closer look. Lucky for us, director James Cameron is a strong advocate for keeping our oceans clean, and there was nary an errant plastic bottle to be found in the background or foreground of any of the modern day scenes, and that makes our hearts go on, and on, and on.

Learn More & Get Involved

Learn more about the Flip the Script on Plastics here, and let us know what content you’re consuming that passes The Begley-Cohen Test by posting screenshots or just tell us what you’re seeing and tag it using #FlipTheScriptOnPlastics.


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