High-concept is a type of artistic work that can be easily pitched with a succinctly stated premise. 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.
High-concept narratives are typically characterized 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.
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 antisemitism.
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 Hobo with a Shotgun, which describes 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. 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".
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 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.