"You think there's a treasure map... on the back of the Declaration Of Independence."Describe "High Concept" here: A fresh, unique, and compelling story premise that can be easily summed up in a single sentence or two. A High Concept is a bare-bones description of the premise of a proposed movie, show, or whatever, used to pitch it to a producer or an audience. A High Concept work is one that can be explained with a short, to-the-point and (it is to be hoped), intriguing description; one that can sell on its own merits. This type is loved by producers who can get a full pitch and explanation of what is going to draw in the viewers within ten seconds. From these few lines they can imagine the trailer, the marketing, the Target Audience and merchandise. Occasionally, as in the page quote, a line of dialogue or narration from a film will sum up its High Concept for us - it sometimes seems like Meddling Executives demanded a good soundbite to put in the trailer. Let Me Get This Straight is a frequent contributor. High Concepts can take several specific forms like: "Show A meets Show B", "One's an X, the other's a Y: They Fight Crime", or "Film X in the style of Creator W" as well as the labored IN SPACE! and Die Hard on an X. Sometimes a High Concept can be based entirely around who's in it as opposed to what it is, with the implication that the star's unique style or talent will carry the premise - a sitcom starring Jerry Seinfeld; a sitcom based around Kelsey Grammer's character from Cheers. And of course you can combine headliner talent with a fantastic or unusual situation: Raven Symone has psychic powers; Billy Ray Cyrus' daughter lives a double-life as a normal teenager and pop icon. Sometimes a high concept can become so influential and imitable that it becomes a format trope in its own right, as is the case of Die Hard; see also The Magnificent Seven Samurai (based on Seven Samurai), Wagon Train to the Stars (named for the high concept pitch for Star Trek), and A Boy and His X. SitComs naturally lend themselves to High Concepts; the "Situation" in "Situational Comedy" often doubles as the High Concept tagline. The same is true for the Reality Show genre. If the High Concept is right there in the title, then it's Exactly What It Says on the Tin. The opposite of High Concept would be Low Concept. In other words, you can't boil down the premise of a show to a simple pitch or tag line. Slice of Life shows, comedic or otherwise (such as The Middle or Parenthood) are a common example of a Low Concept show. Not the kind of concept invented while stoned. Compare Laconic.
— Abigail Chase, National Treasure
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- Attack on Titan: Dual-wielding steampunk spidermen child-soldiers fight man-eating giants bent on wiping out mankind.
- All Fall Down: What if all the superheroes and supervillains in the world lost their powers... and never got them back?
- Godzilla in Hell: Godzilla goes to hell.
- Hellboy: what if a literal demon was raised by humans and became one of the good guys?
- House of M: What if mutants ruled the world?
- Irredeemable: What if Superman got genocidal?
- Nemesis: What if Batman was the Joker?
- Penny Arcade's Lookouts: The Boy Scouts in a Heroic Fantasy world.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Teenaged mutant turtles trained in the secret art of Ninjutsu.
Film - Animated
Film - Live Action
- Two studio execs are credited with separately coining the term "High Concept": Don Simpson (business partner of Jerry Bruckheimer up to Simpson's death in the early 1990s) of Paramount and Jeffery Katzenberg of Disney. Just look at the movies they've overseen, and the results are obvious.
- 13 Going on 30: Big (see below), Gender Flipped.
- Air Force One: Die Hard on Air Force One with Harrison Ford as the President.
- Alien was pitched as Jaws in space.
- Back to the Future: Young man goes back in time and accidentally prevents his own birth, has to play cupid to his own parents.
- Big: A 13-year-old kid wishes he was big, wakes up as a 30-year-old man.
- Bugsy Malone: A murderous 1930s gang war, as reenacted by a bunch of singing kids with custard pie guns.
- Children of Men: What would the world be like after 20 years of no children being born?
- Dave: The Prisoner of Zenda in 1990's America.
- Die Hard: Terrorists take over a building, leaving one man to sneak around and thwart them. (It's such an encapsulated concept that it became a shorthand for other high-concept pitches.)
- Enchanted: Disney Princess from an animated movie gets stuck in cynical live action New York.
- A Fistful of Dollars: Yojimbo recycled as a western.
- Forrest Gump: A single man obliviously influences dozens of landmark events throughout the Baby Boomer generation's lifetime.
- The Fountain: "What if you could live forever... And your lover is dying?"
- Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, King Kong vs. Godzilla, Freddy vs. Jason and Alien vs. Predator: what if two popular, pre-existing monsters fought each other?
- Groundhog Day: Man is forced to relive one day over and over.
- Hanna: Your standard "Super Soldier gone rogue" action film except the soldier is a young girl.
- In Bruges: Two Irish hitmen go sightseeing... in Bruges.
- Inception: A heist film set inside the human subconscious.
- Iron Sky: Nazis on the Moon.
- Jaws: Giant shark starts attacking humans on New England island.
- Junior: Arnold Schwarzenegger gets pregnant.
- Jurassic Park: Dinosaurs are remade in a nature park and run amok.
- Memento: a man who can't form new memories tries to solve a murder by himself.
- Mona Lisa Smile: Dead Poets Society, Gender Fliped.
- National Treasure: Adventurers unravel clues hidden throughout well-known pieces of American history to find a long-lost, unparalleled treasure.
- Next: Man who can see two minutes into future fights terrorists.
- Nick of Time: Man's daughter is held hostage to force him to carry out a suicidal assassination.
- Phone Booth: Sniper holds man at gunpoint in a phone booth.
- Real Steel: Rocky with robots.
- The Rock: Die Hard on Alcatraz with chemical weapons.
- Snakes on a Plane. There are snakes. On a plane.
- Splash: Ordinary guy falls in love with mysterious girl who turns out to be a mermaid
- Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby: Was literally pitched by simply writing on a chalkboard: "Will Ferrell as a NASCAR driver."
- Ted: Mark Wahlberg and a talking teddy bear.
- The Terminator: Robot is sent back in time to kill the savior of mankind before he is born.
- The Thing from Another World and its remake: humans trapped in a cramped, isolated (ant)arctic base with a killer alien.
- Timecop: It's right there in the title.
- Tower Heist: Ocean's Eleven in New York.
- Transformers: A boy and his car.
- Tremors: Jaws in a desert.
- Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil: a slasher movie where the backwoods hillbillies are the heroes and the college kids on vacation are the murderers.
- Under Siege: Die Hard on a battleship with nuclear weapons starring Steven Seagal.
- Olympus Has Fallen: Under Siege in the White House.
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit: Humans and cartoon characters live side by side in 1947 Hollywood.
- The Player: Not the concept of the movie itself, but it's set in the film industry, and most of the characters rattle off high-concept pitches to each other to try and make a blockbuster. It's been credited with teaching aspiring film-makers how to pitch ever since.
Griffin: Twenty-five words or less.
- Parodied in Network, where a scene demonstrates what happens the word "unique" isn't taken seriously:
"These are those four outlines submitted by Universal for an hour series. You needn't bother to read them; I'll tell them to you. The first one is set at a large Eastern law school, presumably Harvard. The series is irresistibly entitled "The New Lawyers." The running characters are a crusty-but-benign ex-Supreme Court justice, presumably Oliver Wendell Holmes by way of Dr. Zorba; there's a beautiful girl graduate student; and the local district attorney who is brilliant and sometimes cuts corners. The second one is called "The Amazon Squad." The running characters include a crusty-but-benign police lieutenant who's always getting heat from the commissioner; a hard-nosed, hard-drinking detective who thinks women belong in the kitchen; and the brilliant and beautiful young girl cop who's fighting the feminist battle on the force. Up next is another one of those investigative reporter shows. A crusty-but-benign managing editor who's always gett..."
- The World's End was conceived as "Some drunk guys save the world."
Live Action TV
- Family Ties: Hip parents, square kids.
- House: Sherlock Holmes as a Medical Drama.
- JAG: Top Gun meets A Few Good Men
- Keen Eddie - New York detective fighting crime in London. Or Dempsey and Makepeace meets Starsky & Hutch.
- Miami Vice: According to legend, the actual pitch was "MTV Cops."
- Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters from Beverly Hills: There's a group of teenagers with tattoos. They fight aliens. They are from Beverly Hills.
- Smallville: Superman meets The X-Files with teenagers.
- Star Trek: The Original Series: Wagon Train... to the stars. While this was the original pitch, it's not really a fair description of the series - it was used to pitch the show because The Western was the big thing in The Sixties. A more accurate high concept would be "Horatio Hornblower doing William Shakespeare Morality Play episodes in space"
- Seinfeld liked to lampshade the idea that it was "a show about nothing," especially when Jerry and George pitch a Show Within a Show to NBC executives, although that is not an ideal High Concept for the show itself.
- The Colbert Report. It's said that when the show was pitched as "Stephen Colbert parodying Bill O'Reilly", it was picked up immediately without even a pilot.
- Most live-action shows on Disney Channel, particularly in the shared universe most of the shows inhabit are built around a High Concept, which usually boils down to "Normal, everyday teenagers... with a twist!" The only real exceptions being Lizzie McGuire, Even Stevens, Good Luck Charlie, Liv and Maddie, I Didn't Do It, and Girl Meets World.
- Dog with a Blog: the High Concept is right there in the title.
- That's So Raven: Teenage girl who has faulty psychic powers.
- Cory in the House: Brother of psychic teenage girl goes to live in the White House.
- Phil of the Future: Future family stuck in modern times.
- The Suite Life of Zack and Cody: Twin boys who live in a Boston hotel.
- The Suite Life on Deck: Same twin boys, but now teenagers and living on a cruise ship.
- Hannah Montana: Teenage girl with a superstar alter-ego.
- Wizards of Waverly Place: Family of wizards who live in New York City.
- Sonny with a Chance: Teenage girl who stars in a sketch comedy.
- JONAS: Teenage boys in a world famous band.
- I'm In The Band: Teenage boy is a guitarist for heavy-metal band.
- Shake It Up: Teenage girls who star in a dance show.
- A.N.T. Farm: Class filled with child prodigies.
- Jessie: Breakout star from Suite Life on Deck plays Small-town teenage girl who nannies for a wacky big city celeb family.
- Dog with a Blog: Family owns a talking dog.
- Austin & Ally: Teenage singer-songwriter duo.
- Liv and Maddie: Teenage star returns home to live with her twin sister and parents who work at her high school.
- I Didn't Do It: Friends in a high school setting with (usually) Book Ends in the form of Hilarity Ensues.
- Crash And Bernstein: Boy who's an Outnumbered Sibling gets a brother in the form of a Living Puppet.
- Kickin' It: Teenage boys and girl practice martial arts.
- Lab Rats: Boy discovers bionically enhanced teenagers.
- Similar to the Disney Channel example, many of the shows in the Nick Verse are built around some sort of High Concept.
- Zoey101: Teenage girls who go to a formerly all-male high school.
- Big Time Rush: Teenage boys in a world famous band.
- iCarly: Teenagers who host their own web series.
- Victorious: Teenage girl who goes to a highly competitive and exclusive arts school in Los Angeles.
- True Jackson VP: Teenage girl who becomes the vice president of a fashion company.
- Marvin Marvin: Teenage alien is sent to live on Earth by his parents.
- Sam & Cat: Two breakout characters from iCarly and Victorious become roommates.
- Wendell And Vinnie: Adult Child becomes the legal guardian of a Child Prodigy.
- The Haunted Hathaways: A mother and her two daughters move into a house haunted by the ghosts of a man and his two sons.
- The Thundermans: Super-powered twins - one an aspiring super-heroine and the other an aspiring super-villain - live with their super-powered parents and super-powered younger siblings.
- Home Improvement: Tim Allen is a family man and host of a DIY TV show; exaggerated forays into Manliness leads to An Aesop.
- Last Man Standing: Refreshed Tim Allen vehicle serving as an updated version of Home Improvement (or even All in the Family) with 21st century sensibilities.
- Mork and Mindy: Wacky space alien is sent to Earth to study and report about Earth culture; rooms with young single woman living in Boulder, Colorado where his misunderstandings of Earth culture lead to wacky hijinks.
- The Monkees: Struggling, zany Beatlesque Anglo-American pop-rock quartet in The Sixties has madcap adventures.
- Person of Interest: Reclusive billionaire and ex-CIA agent fight crime with a machine that predicts people involved in violent crimes before they happen... but they don't know if the person of interest is the victim or the perpetrator.
- How I Met Your Mother: A guy tells his kids the story of how he met their mother.
- Gilmore Girls was pitched as a series about a mother and daughter who are more like friends than parent and child. It was picked up immediately, without even a hint of a script.
- Transparent: It's about a Trans Parent.
- Bret Easton Ellis called the premise of American Psycho a high concept: a serial killer on Wall Street.
- Pretty much any sci-fi by Jules Verne or H. G. Wells were High Concept, especially for their time. In Verne's case, the Concept is often stated in the title: Five Weeks in a Balloon, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Around the World in 80 Days, etc. (Wells had The Time Machine and The Invisible Man, himself.)
- The Left Hand of Darkness - An ambassador from Earth has to try and convince the humanoid members of another planet to join the federation of all the other planets - and the planet he's on is both stuck in an Ice Age and has no gender.
- Harry Potter: A boy goes to a Wizarding School while trying not to get killed by an Evil Overlord who killed his parents.
- Ciaphas Cain: Flashman's space adventures in the 40th century.
- Honor Harrington: Distaff Counterpart Horatio Hornblower in space
- Temeraire: What if the Napoleonic Wars were fought from the backs of intelligent dragons?
- Flashman: Famous war hero who's secretly a coward trying to keep his reputation and hide intact in Victorian England.
- The Man Who Brought The Dodgers Back To Brooklyn: Two friends buy the LA Dodgers, and move them back to a rebuilt Ebbets Field in Brooklyn in the mid-1980's.
- The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: a young girl develops the ability to taste the emotions of people in the food that they make.
- The Dresden Files: "The only wizard in the Chicago phone directory", or "Dirty Harry Potter".
- Brandon Sanderson likes doing these for his books.
- Elantris: What if the gods lost their magic?
- Mistborn: The Original Trilogy: What if the evil overlord won?
- Steelheart: What if all supers were evil?
- The Stormlight Archive: What could justify ridiculously large anime BFSs? This one gets poked fun at the most, as Stormlight is by far his most ambitious series, clocking in at ten books of at least a thousand pages each. So he's writing over ten thousand pages to justify really big swords.
- Most books by Stephen King fall into this.
- IT: Seven misfits fight a monster that lives in the sewers.
- Stand by Me: A writer looks back to the weekend when he and three friends traveled to see a dead body.
- The Stand: After a plague kills most of the world's population, the survivors gather in a battle between good and evil.
- Mister Mercedes: A retired cop hunts for a serial killer.
- The Running Man : In a dystopian Alternate History , a man participates in a deadly game show.
- Misery : After he's injured in a car accident, a writer must write for his life against his deadliest fan.
- Applied to sufficiently important (and of course player) characters in several recent incarnations of the Fate system, including The Dresden Files RPG. The character's high concept (in Harry Dresden's own case, for example, it's "Wizard Private Eye") constitutes one of his or her "aspects" — which means it can be invoked for mechanical bonuses or compelled to make his or her life more difficult — and even enjoys a measure of script immunity in that the rules make it the single hardest aspect to actually change once established.
- Pong: Two paddles hit ball back and forth.
- "Avoid missing ball for high score"
- Shoot Em Ups: Shoot everything that isn't you. Sometimes seen in a longer form: "Shoot 'em up, eat the dots."
- The latter is especially true for Ikaruga, though it's more "Shoot 'em up, eat the same-colored dots as your ship."
- Taken to its logical extreme with a Finnish freeware overhead shooter called Tapan Kaikki, "I Kill Everyone".
- Kingdom Hearts: Final Fantasy, but with Disney characters
- Fighting Games: Choose your character and beat all the others.
- Massive Multiplayer Crossover variants: choose characters you love from different series and beat up charactters from other series.
- You Have to Burn the Rope. That's not a Zero-Context Example, that's literally all the context you need.
- Mass Effect 2, on the back of the box: "They call it a Suicide Mission. Prove them wrong."
- Planescape: Torment has one called by this name in the vision statement.
The player is a scarred amnesiac immortal in search of his identity. On the way, the player character will kill a lot of people... including himself.
- Portal: A hybrid First-Person Shooter and Puzzle Game where the only weapon is a gun that shoots portals that you can go through with an insane killer AI acting as Mission Control.
- The Laconic entry for the game used to be "Darkly humorous puzzle game in an empty laboratory that kicks the laws of physics in the nuts.", so called that because in order to solve the trickier puzzles, you need some excellent spatial reasoning skills. Or as the game calls it, "Thinking with portals!"
- Orcs Must Die
- Shoot Many Robots
- 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand: 50 Cent fights mercenaries in the Middle East in search of a priceless diamond encrusted skull.
- Def Jam Series: Rappers from the Def Jam label (and a few actors in a fighting video game.
- Jetpack Joyride: There is a Jetpack, you steal it, take it for a joyride and see how far can you go.
- Chulip: Figure out how to kiss pretty much every living being in the area in order to kiss the literal girl of your dreams.
- Katamari Damacy: Roll everything up into a ball. Everything.
- Racing Games: Race other players or the computer and finish faster than everyone.
- Yandere Simulator: You have a crush on your Senpai. Pair off, run off, or bump off everyone who gets in your way.
- A few of the Channel Awesome contributors feature this as the hook of their shows (or at least did initially):
- 1408: "It's an evil fucking room."
- Hot Tub Time Machine: "Must be some sort of... hot tub time machine."
- National Treasure: "You think there's a treasure map.... on the back of the Declaration Of Independence."
- The trailer for The Bounty Hunter gives us "You're telling me you want me to kidnap my ex-wife for money?"
- Lawn Dogs:
Trent, age 21: I'll make you a deal. We can be friends, if you can keep it a secret.Devon, age 10: What's wrong with you and me being friends?
- Speed: "Pop quiz, hotshot. There's a bomb on a bus. Once the bus goes 50 miles an hour, the bomb is armed. If it drops below 50, it blows up. What do you do? What do you do?"
- Unstoppable: "We're not just talking about a train, we're talking about a missile the size of the Chrysler Building!"
- Transformers: "I bought a car. Turned out to be an alien robot. Who knew?"
- Gladiator: "The general who became a slave. The slave who became a gladiator. The gladiator who defied an emperor" was frequently used as a tagline for the film.
- Parodied in A Trailer For Every Academy Award Winning Movie Ever: "Explicitly summing up the moral of the story, awkwardly working in... the Movie Title."
- The Man from Earth: "What if a man from the Upper Paleolithic survived until the present day?"