The first film, Oh, God! (1977), was directed by Carl Reiner and adapted by screenwriter Larry Gelbart from a novel of the same name by Avery Corman. John Denver plays Jerry Landers, an assistant manager at a supermarket who is chosen by God to spread His message. Though reluctant at first, Jerry eventually accepts his calling, although his efforts strain his marriage, endanger his job, and put him in the path of a popular televangelist. The film briefly ended the reign of Star Wars at the top of the U.S. box office charts in October 1977, and even earned Gelbart an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.
The sequel, Oh, God! Book II (1980), essentially recycled the plot of the first, but with eleven-year-old Tracy Richards (Louanne Sirota) as His messenger. Tracy is inspired to start a "Think God" campaign at her school, but her divorced parents think she's crazy and plot to halt her mission.
Recognizing that the appeal of the series was George Burns himself, the third movie, Oh, God! You Devil (1984), has him play both God and Satan. In a straightforward Deal with the Devil plot, a struggling musician named Bobby Shelton (Ted Wass) sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for fame and fortune. Trapped by Satan, he seeks help from God (who has been watching over him), and the two nemeses face off for God's list of protected souls.
This film demonstrates the following tropes:
- Almighty Janitor: At one point, God appears as a litter-cleaner in a park.
- Answers to the Name of God: In Oh God! Book II, God messes with the heads of several psychologists by toying with whether it was day or night. When He finally seems to have stopped and departed, one sighs, "Thank God!" and His voice responds, "You're welcome."
- Another example occurs in Oh God! You Devil:Bobby Shelton: Who are you?
[The Devil sticks up his thumb, and a flame comes out of it, like a cigarette lighter. He lights a cigar with the flame, then extinguishes the flame by blowing on his thumb. Bobby Shelton's reaction is a mixture of shock and disgust.]
Bobby Shelton: My God!
Devil: [wry smile] Guess again.
- Another example occurs in Oh God! You Devil:
- Artistic License Traditional Christianity: It was kind of inevitable that the movie's interpretation of God would deviate a bit from the typical theological view. One of the most blatant instances is the page quote; it appears that God has a really lousy memory, because he did a lot of miracles after the Red Sea thing. Likely attributable to Reiner's Jewish background
- Bookends: Oh, God! You Devil starts and ends with a father praying over, and singing to, a sick child.
- The Chosen One: Subverted. When Jerry asks what makes him so special and important to do God's work, God responds that he isn't and that he was simply at the right place at the right time.
- Creator Cameo: In the first movie, director Carl Reiner appears as the guest on the Dinah Shore Show before Jerry's segment.
- Chekhov's Gun: God's voice cannot be recorded.
- Deadpan Snarker: God, as played by George Burns.God: If it pleases the court...and even if it doesn't...
- Deal with the Devil: The third movie. The Devil gives Bobby Shelton the life of a famous musician in exchange for his soul. However, he finds out that, as part of the deal, his original life as a husband to a pregnant wife was now given to a person whose soul the Devil had already claimed — incidentally, the rock star Bobby was now playing as who had a similar deal himself. Bobby seeks to get out of the contract by contacting God, and God confronts the Devil in a card game to get him to release his hold on Bobby's life. Bobby is then restored to his original life and the rock star he was playing as is found dead.
- Disaster Dominoes: In Oh God! You Devil, when Harry Tophet first introduces himself to Bobby during the wedding reception, Tophet's "I can make things happen" sales pitch is seemingly no different from that of any other agent. Tophet proves otherwise when he uses a bit of his demonic mojo to turn a woman's escargot back into live snails. The woman's panicked rush to get away from her plate causes a series of mishaps—including one of the tents being brought down—ending with the newlyweds themselves taking an unwilling dip in the swimming pool.
- Divinely Appearing Demons: In Oh, God! You Devil, George Burns plays both God and the Devil. They look the same, although the Devil prefers to dress all in red.
- Divine Race Lift: Among God's other forms are a black woman and a Hispanic busboy.
- Driven to Suicide: Bobby Shelton in the third movie, when he assumes God hasn't heard his prayer of escape from his rock star life, ends up seeking release through death by drug overdose. However, since this is during God having a card game with the Devil and forcing the Devil to release his hold on Bobby's life, Bobby escapes death by being restored to his original life and the rock star that he was playing as is found dead instead.
- Elderly Immortal: George Burns, a classic Type D.
- Everything's Better with Rainbows: In Oh God! You Devil!, God makes a rainbow appear in the night sky above Las Vegas to confirm that he has heard Bobby Shelton's prayer.
- Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: The Devil believes there's no way God would put untold thousands of souls on the line just to save one man. He is proven wrong during the poker showdown in Oh God! You Devil.
- Evil Is Petty: The Devil delights himself by bringing the gypsy moth back to New England.The Devil: It's the little things I enjoy!
- A Form You Are Comfortable With: God specifically tells His prophets that he could have appeared in any other form, but chose one that they could understand."I don't like to brag, but if I appeared to you just as God - how I really am - what I really am - your mind couldn't grasp it."
- Give Me a Sign: To prove His divinity, Jerry asks God to make it rain. He does so... inside Jerry's moving car.God: Why should I spoil everybody's day?
- God in Human Form
- God Is Flawed: Played mildly for laughs. God readily admits His mistakes, such as the goofy design of ostriches and the oversized avocado pits.
- God Is GoodGod: If it's hard to have faith in me, maybe it will help to know that I have faith in you.
- The Gods Must Be Lazy: Invoked repeatedly by God; whenever He is asked why He doesn't solve the world's problems with his omnipotence, He simply handwaves it as something people must do for themselves.
- God Test: To prove His divinity, Jerry asks God to make it rain. He does so... inside Jerry's moving car.God: Why should I spoil everybody's day?
- God Was My Copilot: The main plot of the first two movies.
- Grandpa God: Granted, he's a lot less majestic than the usual use of this trope. Tophet chides about His down-market golf outfit to Bobby, saying He's too humble for his own good, pointing out his own high-end suit.
- Hold Your Hippogriffs:
- At the climax of Oh God! You Devil, when the Devil lost his nerve in a poker showdown with God, God commented, "I put the fear of Me into you."
- In the first movie, God is sworn into court testimony by pledging "...so help me Me."
- Intentionally Awkward Title: "God" as an interjection was still considered a swear word by a lot of folks in 1977. At least one newspaper (the Mormon-owned Deseret News in Salt Lake City) refused to print the title of the original. The movie ads would just label it as "A comedy starring George Burns" or even just show his picture along with quotes from the film. Probably because it was such a good-natured film (with God portrayed for the most part positively), the sequels didn't have this problem at all.
- Invisible to Normals: God cannot be seen, heard, or recorded by humans unless He allows it. This even extends to transcripts, such as a stenotype paper record of His testimony.
- Jerkass God: A borderline case; while God is not particularly malicious, He also doesn't seem to care about the difficulties that Jerry (or his family) goes through in delivering His message.Jerry: I lost my job, you know.
God: Lose a job, save a world. Not a bad deal.
- Jesus Taboo: Played with; when asked, God admits that Jesus was His son but then also counts Moses, Mohammed, Buddha, and various other spiritual leaders as His children as well.
- Fridge Brilliance: God is played by George Burns- a secular Jewish man in a movie directed by another secular Jewish man.
- King of All Cosmos
- Leno Device: Jerry doesn't get a lot of attention for his claims of talking to God until after he appears on the Dinah Shore Show.
- Louis Cypher: In Oh, God! You Devil, Satan visits Bobby Shelton with the name Harry O. Tophet, a reference to the Canaanite sacrificial city and a euphemism for Hell.
- The Magic Poker Equation: Averted in the ending of Oh, God! You Devil. God beats the Devil in a hand of poker when the Devil decides to fold. And what was God's downright amazing hand? Complete garbage.
- Meaningful Name: Harry O. Tophet in Oh God! You Devil. It works on two levels. First, his initials spell "HOT", invoking Fire and Brimstone Hell. Second, the word Tophet is an older Hebrew word meaning "devil".
- Missing Floor/Strange Secret Entrance: Jerry Landers first talks to God on the 27th floor of a building that has only 17 floors.
- Mission from God: Done literally in the first two films.
- Newscaster Cameo: Hugh Downs and Barbara Walters appear in the second movie to discuss Tracy's "Think God" campaign.
- Not So Omniscient After AllJerry: ...I thought you could tell the future.
God: Absolutely, I can tell the future; the minute it becomes the past.
- Prayer Is a Last Resort: Bobby Shelton is reduced to praying to God to be delivered from his situation of living a rock star life in the third movie so that he could be restored to his original life of an obscure musician with a pregnant wife. God answers the prayer with a rainbow over Vegas in the middle of the night and by pressuring the Devil in a card game to take his hand off Bobby Shelton's life, though in the process Bobby ends up killing the rock star he had been playing the life of so he could escape.
- Rhetorical Request Blunder: In Oh God! You Devil, Bobby Shelton, at the end of his rope following yet another boring, low-paying, dead-end gig, says aloud to himself, "I'd sell my soul to the Devil to make it in this business. Just for the chance." Unfortunately for him, those words didn't go unnoticed.
- Satan: As seen in the third movie, using the name "Harry O. Tophet"
- Second-Face Smoke: In Oh God! You Devil, the Devil does this to Bobby, before vanishing in the cloud of cigar smoke.
- Sinister Minister: Played mildly in Oh, God!, with money-grubbing televangelist Willie Williams.
- Stop Trick: Done in the final courtroom scene of the first movie, when God repeatedly makes a deck of cards appear and disappear.
- Stop Worshipping Me: Happens briefly in the first film. After Jerry appears on the Dinah Shore Show and talks about his visits with God, his home is mobbed by groupies and visitors who want his time, his blessing, and his divine seed."I went to take out the garbage today and two people blessed me! And one of them blessed the garbage!"
- The Tape Knew You Would Say That: Just after the Disaster Dominoes event at the wedding reception (see above), Bobby is startled to notice that Tophet has suddenly disappeared, leaving only his still-lit cigar behind. He's also shocked to hear Tophet's disembodied voice wrap up his sales pitch, telling Bobby to keep in touch. After the voice falls silent, Bobby talks aloud to himself.Bobby Shelton: I'm flipping out!
[looks at the reverse side of Harry Tophet's business card, which was previously blank]
Tophet's Card: You're not flipping out.
- What Were You Thinking?: In Oh God! You Devil, God gives Bobby this sort of rebuke when Bobby begs for His help.God: You made a deal with the Devil. How dumb could you be?
- What Happened to the Mouse?: In Oh God!, Jerry is given a series of tests for God to perform. God notes they are in Aramaic, fills them out for Jerry and Jerry returns them to his accusers. After this they play no further part in the movie. In the original book, God revealed his presence by solving all the tests, not personally appearing.