"You think there's a treasure map... on the back of the Declaration Of Independence."
—Abigail Chase, National Treasure
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 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 Recycled IN SPACE! and Die Hard on an X. 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. Contrast with Better Than It Sounds which is often taken as a parody of these; unlike Better Than It Sounds, however, these do get the gist of the experience across.
- Nemesis: What if Batman was the Joker?
- Irredeemable: What if Superman got genocidal?
- All Fall Down: What if all the superheroes and supervillains in the world lost their powers... and never got them back?
- Air Force One: Die Hard on Air Force One with Harrison Ford as President John McClane.
- 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.
- 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 Prisoner of Zenda in contemporary 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.
- 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 American history to find a long-lost, unparalleled treasure.
- Next: Man who can see two minutes into future fights terrorists.
- Real Steel: Rocky with robots.
- 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?"
- Talladega Nights: Was literally pitched by simply writing on a chalkboard: "Will Ferrell as a NASCAR driver."
- Ted: Mark Wahlberg and a teddy bear.
- 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: A group of toys fight for their owner... will they survive?
- Transformers: A boy and his car.
- Under Siege: Die Hard on a battleship with nuclear weapons starring Steven Seagal.
- 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 and Hutch.
- Miami Vice: According to legend, the actual pitch was "MTV Cops."
- Smallville: Superman meets The X-Files with teenagers.
- Star Trek: The Original Series: Wagon Train... to the stars.
- 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.
- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: Hamlet from the perspective of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, with absurdism
- Blithe Spirit: A remarried widower accidentally calls back the ghost of his first wife; Hilarity Ensues.
- Pong: Two paddles hit ball back and forth.
- "Avoid missing ball for high score"
- Shoot Em Ups: Shoot the bad guys. Sometimes seen in a longer form: "Shoot 'em up, eat the dots."
- 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!"
- 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.
- 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?"
- Herrick in Being Human (UK): "So, a werewolf, a ghost and a vampire decide to live like humans do. They get jobs, a house, and a TV license..."
- Breaking Bad: "High school teacher turned meth dealer, brother-in-law's in the DEA? That'd make one hell of a story..."
- Wondermark got a High Concept Generator. Prepare your d12 and roll with The Electro-plasmic Hydrocephalic Genre-Fiction Generator 2000. Or use a ready script that randomizes it for you (linked on that page).
- "Story Arc" and "Cliché Fantasy Plot" generators from Chaotic Shiny.
- Son of a Pitch! on Gav Thorpe's blog gives basics on what pitch, blurb and synopsis should do, and how to write them.