High Concept

"You think there's a treasure map... on the back of the Declaration of Independence."
Abigail Chase, National Treasure

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.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Attack on Titan: Dual-wielding steampunk spidermen child-soldiers fight man-eating giants bent on wiping out mankind.

    Comic Books 

    Film - Animated 

    Film - Live Action 

    Live Action TV 



    Tabletop Games 
  • 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.


    Video Games 


    Web Original 

Dialog examples:

  • 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?"
  • Star Trek (2009 reboot):
    Spock: Nero's very presence has altered the flow of history... thereby creating an entire new chain of incidents that cannot be anticipated by either party.
    Spock: Precisely. Whatever our lives might have been, if the time continuum was disrupted, our destinies have changed.

    Live-Action TV