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Urban Cowboy is a 1980 American romantic drama film about the love-hate relationship between Buford Uan "Bud" Davis (John Travolta) and Sissy (Debra Winger). The movie captured the late 1970s/early 1980s popularity of country music. It was John Travolta's third major acting role after Saturday Night Fever and Grease. Much of the action centers around activities at Gilley's Club, a honky tonk in Pasadena, Texas.

Urban Cowboy
Urban cowboy Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by James Bridges
Produced by Irving Azoff
Robert Evans
Screenplay by James Bridges
Aaron Latham
Story by Aaron Latham
Starring John Travolta
Debra Winger
Scott Glenn
Barry Corbin
Madolyn Smith
Music by Ralph Burns
Cinematography Reynaldo Villalobos
Edited by David Rawlins
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date
  • June 6, 1980 (1980-06-06)
Running time
132 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $53,300,000 (USA)


Historical background and productionEdit

The film's screenplay was adapted by Aaron Latham and James Bridges from an article by the same name in Esquire Magazine written by Latham. The original Esquire article centered on the romance between two Gilley's regulars named Dew Westbrook and Betty Helmer. Westbrook and Helmer's real life relationship became the inspiration for the on screen romance between John Travolta's and Debra Winger's characters "Bud" and "Sissy".[1] The movie was directed by Bridges. Some film critics referred to the movie as a country music version of Saturday Night Fever. The film grossed almost $47 million in the United States alone, and temporarily recovered Travolta from the flop Moment by Moment (1978), but the film was nowhere near as successful as either Saturday Night Fever ($94 million) or Grease ($188 million).

While filming Urban Cowboy, John Travolta had a private corner at the Westheimer Road location of the Ninfa's restaurant in Houston.[2]

Urban Cowboy was the first motion picture to be choreographed by Patsy Swayze, which launched her career as a film choreographer.[3]

John Travolta, et al, rented a home in the Memorial area overlooking Buffalo Bayou on or about 110 Shasta Drive, Houston, Texas 77024.[original research?] The entourage was frequently seen driving back and forth down Lindenwood Drive and Shasta Drive while filming in Houston.


Bud Davis (John Travolta) moves to Houston for a job in the city's oil refinery industry. He hopes to save enough money to move back to his hometown of Spur, Texas and buy some land.[4] Bud stays with his Uncle Bob (Barry Corbin) and his family, with whom Bud is close. Bob takes Bud to the local honky tonk, Gilley's (at the time, an actual bar in Pasadena, co-owned by singer Mickey Gilley and his record producer Sherwood Cryer). Bud quickly embraces the local nightlife there.

At the club, Bud meets Sissy (Debra Winger), who asks if he is a real cowboy. They fall in love, and soon after Bud asks Sissy to marry him. Their wedding reception is held at Gilley's, and they immediately move into a brand new mobile home. Although they are in love and passionate, Bud and Sissy have many quarrels. Sissy is a feisty, independent woman while Bud believes in traditional gender roles. However, their lives settle into a routine of work by day and Gilley's at night, where Bud takes a liking to riding the mechanical bull. When Sissy also wants to ride, he forbids her.

Wes Hightower (Scott Glenn), on parole from Huntsville Penitentiary, lands a job at Gilley's running the mechanical bull due to his rodeo skills. He flirts with Sissy, who is flattered, but a drunken Bud is enraged, and he and Wes end up in a fist fight. Sissy, against Bud's wishes, spends time at Gilley's during the day learning how to ride the mechanical bull. One night, Jessie, Sissy's friend, and Wes convince Sissy to ride the bull. She does it to impress Bud, but he becomes angry and resentful that Sissy defied him, and challenges her. When Bud falls off during his second ride in that challenge, Wes swings the bull around fast, breaking Bud's arm. At home, Sissy accuses Bud of being jealous because she rides the bull better than he can. Bud slaps her and throws her out of the trailer.

Shortly after, Sissy and Bud see each other at Gilley's, but Sissy, still angry, refuses to talk to Bud. To make Sissy jealous, Bud introduces himself to a beautiful girl named Pam (Madolyn Smith) and dances with her, while Sissy dances with Wes. Bud and Pam leave together but Sissy, upset, declines Wes' sexual advances. Later, Sissy moves in with Wes, who lives in a run-down trailer behind Gilley's.

Bud wants to enter the mechanical bull riding rodeo at Gilley's and starts training with his uncle Bob, a former rodeo champion. Bob advises Bud to swallow his pride and make up with Sissy. Meanwhile, Sissy returns to their mobile home to pick up her things, but she also cleans house and leaves Bud a note saying she hopes they can get back together. Pam arrives, and after Sissy leaves, Pam throws the note away. Meanwhile, Sissy catches Wes with Marshalene, who works at Gilley's. Wes is abusive when Sissy reacts angrily.

Uncle Bob is killed in an explosion at the refinery. At his funeral, Sissy tells Bud that Wes was fired from Gilley's and is unable to find another job. They are going to Mexico after Wes wins the $5000 prize at the bull riding rodeo. It is Bud who wins the contest, however, and Pam, realizing that he still loves Sissy, encourages him to reconcile with her.

Sissy refuses to go to Mexico with Wes, but relents after he hits her. He orders her to wait for him in her car behind Gilley's. Unknown to Sissy, Wes is inside stealing the entry money. Bud finds Sissy in the parking lot and tells her he still loves her. She reciprocates and they embrace. Seeing Sissy's bruised face, Bud goes after Wes and a fight ensues at the bar entrance. The fight causes Wes to drop his gun, and the stolen money falls from his jacket. Bud overpowers Wes and after punching him several times, pins him down on the floor. Gilley's staff, having discovered the robbery, apprehend Wes. Bud and Sissy, reconciled, go home together.


Critical reception and legacyEdit

The film received generally positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the movie received a 77% "Fresh" rating.[5] "Urban Cowboy is not only most entertaining but also first-rate social criticism," said Vincent Canby of The New York Times.[6] Variety's staff members wrote, "Director James Bridges has ably captured the atmosphere of one of the most famous chip-kicker hangouts of all: Gilley's Club on the outskirts of Houston."[7]

The film gave Pasadena and Houston a brief turn under the Hollywood spotlight. Andy Warhol, Jerry Hall, and many other celebrities attended the premiere in Houston.[8][9]

Mickey Gilley's career was re-lit after the film release, and the soundtrack started a music movement.[10]


The movie featured a hit soundtrack album spawning numerous Top 10 Billboard Country Singles, such as #1 "Lookin' for Love" by Johnny Lee, #1 "Stand by Me" by Mickey Gilley, #3 (AC chart) "Look What You've Done to Me" by Boz Scaggs, #1 "Could I Have This Dance" by Anne Murray, and #4 "Love the World Away" by Kenny Rogers. It also included songs that were hits from earlier years such as #1 "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" by the Charlie Daniels Band and "Lyin' Eyes" by the Eagles. The film is said to have started the 1980s boom in pop-country music known as the "Urban Cowboy Movement" also known as Neo-Country or Hill Boogie.

Urban Cowboy
Soundtrack album by Various Artists
Released 1980
Genre Country, rock
Label Full Moon, Asylum
Producer Irving Azoff (exec.)

Released as a double LP,[11] re-released on CD in 1995.[12]

Side A:

  1. Hello Texas – Jimmy Buffett (2:33)
  2. All Night LongJoe Walsh (3:50)
  3. Times Like These – Dan Fogelberg (3:02)
  4. Nine TonightBob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band (6:35)

Side B:

  1. Stand By MeMickey Gilley (3:35)
  2. Cherokee Fiddle – Johnny Lee (4:06)
  3. Could I Have This DanceAnne Murray (3:14)
  4. Lyin' EyesThe Eagles (6:23)

Side C:

  1. Lookin' for LoveJohnny Lee (3:41)
  2. Don't it Make You Want to Dance – Bonnie Raitt (3:29)
  3. The Devil Went Down to GeorgiaCharlie Daniels Band (3:35)
  4. Here Comes the Hurt AgainMickey Gilley (2:41)
  5. Orange Blossom Special / Hoedown – Gilley's "Urban Cowboy" Band (2:06)

Side D:

  1. Love the World AwayKenny Rogers (3:11)
  2. Falling in Love for the Night – Charlie Daniels Band (3:00)
  3. Darlin' – Bonnie Raitt (2:34)
  4. Look What You've Done to MeBoz Scaggs (5:39)
  5. Hearts Against the Wind – Linda Ronstadt with J. D. Souther (2:58)

Chart performanceEdit

Chart (1980) Peak
US Billboard Top Country Albums 1
US Billboard 200 3
Canadian RPM Country Albums 2
Canadian RPM Top Albums 21

Chart singlesEdit

Year US Billboard Hot 100
US Cash Box Top 100
US Country CAN Top Singles
CAN Country
May 1980 19 18 -- -- 27 -- -- -- "All Night Long" – Joe Walsh
May 1980 22 22 3 1 51 -- 3 -- "Stand By Me" – Mickey Gilley
June 1980 14 17 8 4 25 -- 1 -- "Love the World Away" – Kenny Rogers
July 1980 5 4 10 1 54 20 18 -- "Lookin' for Love" – Johnny Lee
August 1980 14 13 3 -- 30 41 -- 39 "Look What You've Done to Me" – Boz Scaggs
August 1980 33 53 3 1 19 1 1 2 "Could I Have This Dance" – Anne Murray
Preceded by
Music Man by Waylon Jennings
Horizon by Eddie Rabbitt
Top Country Albums number-one album
August 2 – September 6, 1980
September 20–27, 1980
Succeeded by
Horizon by Eddie Rabbitt
Honeysuckle Rose by Willie Nelson

TV series adaptationEdit

On May 28, 2015, it was announced that 20th Century Fox Television had teamed-up with Paramount Television to adapt the 1980s film Urban Cowboy into a television series, and set Craig Brewer to write and direct the pilot, while to executive produce the whole series.[18] Chris Levinson was set as the showrunner and would executive produce the series along with Robert Evans and Sue Naegle. In December, FOX passed on the pilot.[19]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Dew Westbrook THE ORIGINAL URBAN COWBOY IS STILL LOOKING FOR LOVE.". Texas Monthly. Texas Monthly. Retrieved 2015-04-17. 
  2. ^ Huynh, Dai. "Restaurateur Mama Ninfa dies." Houston Chronicle. Monday June 18, 2001. A1. Retrieved on February 5, 2012.
  3. ^ Kelly, Devin (2013-09-18). "Patsy Swayze, mother of Patrick Swayze, dies at 86". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2013-10-06. 
  4. ^ Vincent Canby (1980-06-11). "John Travolta, Urban Cowboy". The New York Times. 
  5. ^ "Urban Cowboy - Rotten Tomatoes". Retrieved 2012-05-29. 
  6. ^ "Movie Review - Urban Cowboy - TRAVOLTA, 'URBAN COWBOY' -". Retrieved 2012-05-29. 
  7. ^ "Variety Reviews - Urban Cowboy - Film Reviews - - Review by Variety Staff". Retrieved 2012-05-29. 
  8. ^ "A Look Back at How Gilley's and Urban Cowboy Affected the Houston Area | Houston Press". Retrieved 2015-06-18. 
  9. ^ "06/05/1980 - artist Andy Warhol and model-actress Jerry Hall at... Photo-8016991.110153 - Houston Chronicle". Retrieved 2015-06-18. 
  10. ^ "Inside Country Music's Polarizing 'Urban Cowboy' Movement". Rolling Stone. 
  11. ^ "Various - Urban Cowboy (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (Vinyl, LP, Album) at Discogs". Retrieved 2015-06-18. 
  12. ^ "Music: Urban Cowboy: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (CD) by Johnny Lee, Kenny Rogers, Jimmy Buffett, Boz Scaggs, Linda Ronstadt, J.D. Souther, Charlie Daniels Band, Eagles, Mickey Gilley, Bonnie Raitt". Retrieved 2015-06-18. 
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ a b c
  17. ^
  18. ^ Littleton, Cynthia (May 28, 2015). "Fox Developing ‘Urban Cowboy’ TV Remake with Craig Brewer, Paramount TV (Exclusive)". Retrieved September 12, 2015. 
  19. ^

External linksEdit