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high concept film, high-concept commercial fiction
High-concept is a type of artistic work that can be easily pitched with a succinctly stated premise1 It can be contrasted with low-concept, which is more concerned with character development and other subtleties that are not as easily summarized The origin of the term is disputed2


  • 1 Terminology
  • 2 Characteristics
  • 3 Commercial benefits
  • 4 Examples
    • 41 Cinema
    • 42 Television
  • 5 See also
  • 6 References


High-concept narratives are typically characterised by an overarching "what if" scenario that acts as a catalyst for the following events Often, the most popular summer blockbuster movies are built on a high-concept idea, such as "what if we could clone dinosaurs", as in Jurassic Park

However, it is important to differentiate a high-concept narrative from an analogous narrative In the case of the latter, a high-concept story may be employed to allow commentary on an implicit subtext A prime example of this might be George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, which asks, "What if we lived in a future of totalitarian government" while simultaneously generating social comment and critique aimed at Orwell's own real world contemporary society Similarly, the Gene Roddenberry sci-fi series Star Trek went beyond the high-concept storytelling of a futurist starship crew, by addressing 20th century social issues in a hypothetical and defamiliarising context Planet of the Apes 1968 likewise engages in social commentary regarding race relations and other topics from modern human society via the lens of the ape civilization, in part as a response by screenplay co-writer Rod Serling to his experiences of anti-semitism3


The term is also applied, often disparagingly, to films that are pitched and developed almost entirely upon an engaging high-concept premise with broad appeal, rather than standing upon complex character study, cinematography, or other strengths that relate more to the artistic execution of a production Extreme examples of high-concept films are Snakes on a Plane and Hobo with a Shotgun, which describe their entire premises in their titles

A movie described as being "high-concept" is considered easy to sell to a wide audience because it delivers upon an easy-to-grasp idea4 This simple narrative can often be summed up with a single iconic image, such as the theme park logo from Jurassic Park Along with having well-defined genre and aesthetics, high-concept films have marketing guidelines known as "the look, the hook and the book"5

  • The look of the film is simply how visually appealing it is to the public, usually before its release Jurassic Park would show the world dinosaurs as they had never been seen before
  • The hook is the story the film is trying to sell to its audience Everyone wanted to know how dinosaurs could walk the Earth again after being extinct for 65 million years and how they would coexist with people
  • The book can be labeled as all the merchandise made to help promote the film The merchandise in Jurassic Park was destined to sell well, with people wanting the T-shirts and lunch boxes that were shown for sale within the movie itself, with similar merchandise later to be sold at Universal Studios in the gift shop connected to the Jurrasic Park ride

Commercial benefitsedit

High-concept television series and movies often rely on pre-sold properties such as movie stars to build audience anticipation, and they might use cross-promotional advertising campaigns with links to a soundtrack, music videos, and licensed merchandise such as DVD box sets They commonly apply market and test screening feedback to alter the narrative or even, as in the case of Snakes on a Plane, the dialoguecitation needed to ensure maximum popularity Some commercial blockbuster movies are built as star vehicles for successful music and sports personalities to enter the movie business In such commercial vehicles, where the onscreen activity is less important than the saleability of the product brand, a high-concept narrative is often used as a "safe" option to avoid the risk of alienating audiences with convoluted or overly taxing plot exposition



  • Planet of the Apes 1968; the original exemplifies the "analogous" category more than the sequels and remakes
  • Jaws 1975
  • Star Wars 1977
  • Freaky Friday 1976; remade 1995, 2003
  • ET the Extra-Terrestrial 1982
  • Tootsie 1982
  • Ghostbusters 1984; remade 2016
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street 1984; remade 2010
  • RoboCop 1987; remade 2014
  • Big 1988
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit 1988
  • Groundhog Day 1993
  • Jurassic Park 1993
  • Last Action Hero 1993
  • Speed 1994
  • Toy Story 1995
  • Independence Day 1996
  • Space Jam 1996
  • Liar, Liar 1997
  • Face/Off 1997
  • The Matrix 1999
  • The Sixth Sense 1999
  • Phone Booth 2002
  • Cellular 2004
  • Snakes on a Plane 2006
  • Yes Man 2008
  • The Invention of Lying 2009
  • TiMER 2009
  • Buried 2010
  • Inception 2010
  • Grabbers 2012
  • Ted 2012
  • Locke 2013
  • Inside Out 2015
  • Monster Trucks 2016


  • The Time Tunnel 1966–1967
  • ALF 1986–1990
  • Quantum Leap 1989–1993
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1997–2003
  • Two and a Half Men 2003–2015
  • The Trial of Tony Blair 2007
  • Dollhouse 2009
  • The Execution of Gary Glitter 2009
  • FlashForward 2009
  • Wilfred 2011–2014
  • Awake 2012
  • Continuum 2012–2015

See alsoedit

  • Elevator pitch
  • Log line


  1. ^ Pressfield, Steven April 25, 2012 "Writing Wednesdays: High Concept" Steven Pressfield Online Retrieved October 6, 2012 
  2. ^ Justin Wyatt, High Concept: Movies and Marketing in Hollywood Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994 p 8 ISBN 978-0-292-79091-9
  3. ^ "Thought you'd sussed out Planet of the Apes Think again" theconversationcom 2014-07-18 Retrieved 2016-09-10 
  4. ^ High Concept Defined Once and For All from WritersStorecom
  5. ^ http://wwwutexasedu/utpress/excerpts/exwyahightml
  • Truby, John The Anatomy of Story 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller New York 2007 p 17
  • High Concept: Movies and Marketing in Hollywood by Justin Wyatt, 1994
  • Heitmuller, Karl"Sometimes 'High Concept' Is Just Plain Old Awful" MTV News, July 11, 2006

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