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High Concept

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Guess what the premise is.

"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 trope, (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.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • 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? As for its second part, Incorruptible, what if Zod was the only one who could stand against him?
  • Nemesis: What if Batman was the Joker?
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Teenaged mutant turtles trained in the secret art of Ninjutsu.
  • Superman: Red Son: What if Superman landed in the Soviet Union instead of America?
  • Y: The Last Man: A man and his pet monkey are the only survivors of a Gendercide.

    Film — Animated 
  • Chicken Run was literally pitched to Steven Spielberg by Peter Lord as "The Great Escape with chickens".
  • Nearly every film from Pixar can be summed up using the question "What if [x] had feelings?," as demonstrated here.
    • More specifically, WALL•E was born from a question a writer asked shortly after Toy Story wrapped: "What if mankind left Earth and someone forgot to turn off the last robot?"

    Film — Live-Action 


    Live-Action TV 


    Tabletop Games 


    Video Games 


    Web Original 
    Western Animation 
  • Transformers: Two warring factions of alien robots (one good, one evil) come to Earth and fight one another.

Dialogue 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):
    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.
    Uhura: An alternate reality?
    Spock: Precisely. Whatever our lives might have been, if the time continuum was disrupted, our destinies have changed.

    Live-Action TV 

     Video Games 
  • Superhot: "TIME. ONLY. MOVES. WHEN. YOU. MOVE."


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