"You think there's a treasure map... on the back of the Declaration Of Independence."
A High Concept is a bare-bones description of the premise of a proposed show, 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
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.
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 Simone 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
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
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
) are a common example of a Low Concept show.
open/close all folders
- Air Force One: Die Hard on Air Force One with Harrison Ford as the President.
- Alien was pitched as Jaws in space.
- James Cameron simply pitched Aliens by writing the title on a chalkboard and drawing a line on the S (making it a dollar sign). The next day, the film was greenlighted and given an $18 million budget.
- 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.
- Dave: An honest everyman has to impersonate the corrupt U.S. President during the latter's coma, and uses this position for the better. Or The Prisonerof 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.
- 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?"
- Groundhog Day: Man is forced to relive one day over and over.
- 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.
- Jurassic Park: Dinosaurs are remade in a nature park and run amok.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?"
- 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.
- Tower Heist: Ocean's Eleven in New York.
- Toy Story: If children's toys were alive, how would they relate to their owners?
- Transformers: A boy and his car.
- Under Siege: Die Hard on a battleship with nuclear weapons starring Steven Seagal.
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit?: Humans and cartoon characters live side by side in 1947 Hollywood.
- The pitch for the perfect action movie on XKCD is simply "River Tam Beats Up Everyone".
Live Action TV
- Bret Easton Ellis called the premise of American Psycho a high concept: a serial killer on Wall Street.
- 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: an ordinary British boy learns he's a wizard and goes to a school to hone his abilities while having to fight the evil wizard who killed his parents.
- Ciaphas Cain: A self-serving coward must reluctantly pull off increasingly daring feats of selfless heroism so that no one will suspect he is a self-serving coward.
- Honor Harrington: Horatio Hornblower IN SPACE!
- Temeraire: What if the Napoleonic Wars were fought from the backs of intelligent dragons?
- The Dresden Files RPG, which uses the Fudge System, makes extensive use of concept phrases, including actually name-dropping the phrase "High Concept" for character creation.
- 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".
- Fighting Games: Choose your character and beat all the others.
- You Have To Burn The Rope
- 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. Oh, and there's 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
- Fifty Cent Blood On The Sand: 50 Cent fights mercenaries in the Middle East in search of a priceless diamond encrusted skull.
- 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: (As above; this was delivered by the villain.) "There's a bomb on a bus. Once the bus goes over 50 miles an hour, the bomb is armed. When it drops below 50, it blows up. 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!"
- 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.
- 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?"