High concept

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High concept is a type of artistic work that can be easily pitched with a succinctly stated premise.[1] 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 disputed.[2]


High-concept narratives are typically characterised by an overarching "what if?" scenario that catalyses the following events. Many summer blockbuster movies are built on a high-concept idea, such as "what if we could clone dinosaurs?" as in Jurassic Park.

High-concept narratives differ from analogous narratives. 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-semitism.[3]


The term is often applied to films that are pitched and developed almost entirely upon an engaging 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 Sharknado, 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 idea.[4] 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 Jurassic Park ride.

Commercial benefits[edit]

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 dialogue) 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 marketability 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.




See also[edit]


  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". theconversation.com. 2014-07-18. Retrieved 2016-09-10.
  4. ^ High Concept Defined Once and For All from WritersStore.com
  5. ^ Justin Wyatt. "High Concept: Movies and Marketing in Hollywood". University of Texas Press. Archived from the original on 2004-09-04.
  6. ^ Ballas, Anthony James (2017). "The Orientation of Future Cinema: Technology, Aesthetics, Spectacle". CINEJ Cinema Journal. 6 (2). University of Pittsburgh: 224. ISSN 2158-8724. Retrieved March 28, 2021.
  7. ^ Phelan, Laurence (May 22, 1999). "Books: Crash course for buffs". The Independent. Retrieved March 28, 2021.
  8. ^ Atkinson, Michael; Shifrin, Laurel (2008). Flickipedia: Perfect Films for Every Occasion, Holiday, Mood, Ordeal, and Whim. Chicago, Illinois: Chicago Review Press. p. 210. ISBN 9781556527142. Cube (1997) A high-concept, polished Canadian sci-fi indie, Vincenzo Natali's movie is an ingenious but stagy attempt at beginning where Sartre's play No Exit left off: [...]
  9. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan (June 4, 1998). "The Audience is Us". Chicago Reader. Retrieved April 14, 2021. Undeniably provocative and reasonably entertaining, The Truman Show is one of those high-concept movies whose concept is both clever and dumb.
  10. ^ Copier, Laura (2009). "American Martyr: High Concept Visions in Armageddon" (PDF). Preposterous revelations: Visions of Apocalypse and martyrdom in Hollywood cinema 1980-2000 (PhD). University of Amsterdam. p. 91. Retrieved March 28, 2021.
  11. ^ Nayar, Parvathi (July 1, 2012). "The title says it all". The Hindu. Retrieved March 29, 2021.
  12. ^ Daswani, Kavita (July 16, 2017). "Dunkirk director Christopher Nolan on casting Harry Styles, selling a British story in the US, and the challenges of filming it". South China Morning Post. Retrieved March 28, 2021.
  13. ^ Brady, Tara (July 15, 2011). "Hobo with a Shotgun". The Irish Times. Retrieved April 13, 2021.
  14. ^ Bisset, Jennifer (March 28, 2021). "The 39 best movies to see on Netflix". CNET. Retrieved March 29, 2021. Its high-concept story centers on a tower that delivers food to people on each of its many levels via a platform.
  15. ^ "Clone High Review: The Clones Are Back For A Smart And Funny Second Season". /Film. 2023-05-17. Retrieved 2023-07-28. ...with the high concept shenanigans also letting the interpersonal romances breathe and shine.
  16. ^ Volmers, Eric (September 1, 2015). "Disney star's rags-to-riches story a true underdog tale". Calgary Herald. Retrieved 2023-07-28. The high-concept series about a talking dog who reports on all shenanigans and drama of his blended family through a blog...
  17. ^ Moylan, Brian (2014-12-08). "Eaten Alive's snake stunt bit off more than it could chew". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2023-07-28.
  18. ^ Tomashoff, Craig (2016-10-26). "Why High-Concept TV Shows Are Suddenly All the Rage (Again)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2023-07-18.
  19. ^ Tomashoff, Craig (2016-10-26). "Why High-Concept TV Shows Are Suddenly All the Rage (Again)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2023-07-18.
  20. ^ Tomashoff, Craig (2016-10-26). "Why High-Concept TV Shows Are Suddenly All the Rage (Again)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2023-07-18.
  21. ^ Abrams, Simon (19 January 2023). "The Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime The Movie Review: Adaptation of Anime TV Series Underwhelms". TheWrap. Their show's ever-mutating high-concept appeal...
  22. ^ Zahed, Ramin (January 30, 2023). "Meet the Thoroughly Modern, Very Grown-Up 'Velma'!". Animation Magazine. Retrieved 2023-07-18.

Further reading[edit]

  • Truby, John. The Anatomy of Story. 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller. New York 2007. p. 17.
  • Justin Wyatt. High Concept: Movies and Marketing in Hollywood. 1994.

External links[edit]