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.


By Lisa Kaas Boyle

Product Placement is an industry in Hollywood with companies vying to get their goods on the screen and in photos with stars. The tobacco industry actively promoted smoking through association with stars by supplying stars with cigarettes and making deals to get the brand on screen, although the dangers of this form of advertising has led to some restrictions on placement in films for youth

But will Hollywood recognize the harms of single-use plastic on human health and the environment and cut the deals with purveyors of throw away plastics? This Oscar weekend showed a very disappointing failure to grasp the zeitgeist in California where plastic pollution is a hot issue in the legislature and in media.

The Spirit Awards are known as the “cool” Oscars– a laid back affair at the beach the Saturday before the Oscars where independent films get “Spirit Awards” for the same categories. More often these days with excellence coming from outside the studio system, most of the films and the stars are the same group that will be celebrated the following day at the Oscars.

The large tent for the Spirit Awards is in the parking lot of the Santa Monica Pier, right next door to the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium. This aquarium, operated by local ocean nonprofit Heal the Bay, is unique because every creature housed there is local, making it a great teaching tool for environmental activists working to protect the Santa Monica Bay as habitat.

Known as the center of the film industry, California is also leading the nation in creating policy solutions to plastic pollution. California is the first state to pass a statewide ban on plastic bags, thanks to activism led by groups including Heal the Bay. Heal the Bay was drawn naturally to plastic pollution policy from its regular beach cleanups and leadership on Coastal Cleanup Day, the single largest volunteer environmental event on the planet each year. Coastal Cleanup Day not only cleans the beach of plastic pollution, but produces a scientific analysis of the items collected each year as well as a Top 10 Items Found. 

California recently made U.S. national news by introducing a Straws Upon Request bill (AB 1884) that calls on dine-in restaurants to enact a straws-upon-request policy “to create awareness around the issue of one-time use plastic straws and its detrimental effects on our landfills, waterways, and oceans,” said the bill’s author, Majority Leader Ian Calderon.

Plastic pollution on the beach is more than just an eyesore on tourist dependent beaches. Scientific studies have shown that plastics break down into micro plastics in the aquatic environment and have entered our food chain. Plastic pollution is also killing the ocean creatures on display at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium– sea birds and turtles who mistake bits of plastic as food are suffering greatly.

Plastic bottles and straws are top offenders on the beach and are consistently among the Top 10 Items Found on Coastal Cleanup Day. Many campaigns have developed to discourage single-use straw use– including PPC’s project The Last Plastic Straw, founded by Jackie Nuñez, and Strawless Ocean with actor and activist Adrian Grenier. 

At the same time, environmental groups are seeking to popularize tap water as the most sustainable way to stay hydrated. WeTap, a nonprofit organization, has a free app to locate and rate water fountains. And the best restaurants are offering filtered flat and sparkling water free of charge to guests in response to the trend away from bottled water.

Even large events have gone plastic bottle free. As far back as 2009, WeTap helped Maria Shriver’s Women’s Conference go plastic free with a cold filtered tap water refill station and reusable water bottles for each guest.

Apparently Film Independent, creators of the Spirit Awards, did not get the memo on plastic pollution when choosing Fiji water as a sponsor. Not only were Fiji Water Bottles placed at the door to the tent, but this year the bottles were double offenders with plastic straws inserted through the lids.

While companies like Fiji Water that take precious local water from far away, bottle it in plastic and ship it around the globe, may argue that their containers are recyclable, the fact is that most of these bottles won’t get recycled. China is so overburdened with America’s plastic waste that they are no longer accepting it for recycling and the cheap cost of virgin petrochemicals here in America thanks especially to fracking makes recycling plastic less attractive.

If plastic does get repurposed, it’s generally down cycled into fill or fluff and doesn’t return as a bottle, hence the continual manufacture of single-use plastic containers. Almost all the plastic produced is still with us in some form. Scientists tell us that by the year 2050 there will be more plastic than fish by weight in our oceans

Which is why at least one attendee to the Spirit Awards this year was shocked to see the Fiji water giveaway with plastic straws. Here is the tweet:

Perhaps next year the Spirit Awards will catch the wave of change and give out beautiful, reusable bottles and straws.

Lisa Kaas Boyle is an an environmental attorney, mother, and activist, and a co-founder of Plastic Pollution Coalition.

Take the pledge to refuse plastic straws.

Get the tools to ask your local eateries to change their straw protocols.

Join our global Coalition.