Urban Cowboy

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Urban Cowboy
Urban cowboy Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJames Bridges
Screenplay byJames Bridges
Aaron Latham
Story byAaron Latham
Produced byIrving Azoff
Robert Evans
C. O. Erickson (executive producer)
StarringJohn Travolta
Debra Winger
Scott Glenn
Barry Corbin
Madolyn Smith
CinematographyReynaldo Villalobos
Edited byDavid Rawlins
Music byRalph Burns
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • June 6, 1980 (1980-06-06)
Running time
135 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$10 million[1]
Box office$53.3 million

Urban Cowboy is a 1980 American romantic Western film directed by James Bridges. The plot concerns the love-hate relationship between Buford Uan "Bud" Davis (John Travolta) and Sissy (Debra Winger). The film captured the late 1970s/early 1980s popularity of country music. Much of the action revolves around activities at Gilley's Club, a football-field-sized honky tonk in Pasadena, Texas.


Buford "Bud" Davis, a native of Spur, Texas, moves to Houston to take a job at an oil refinery where his uncle, Bob Davis, is employed. His goal is to make enough money to return to Spur and buy some land. While staying with Bob and his family, Bud embraces the local nightlife, including spending many nights at Gilley's, a bar and nightclub in Pasadena.

One night, Bud meets a woman named Sissy at Gilley's. They fall in love, marry soon after and move into a brand-new mobile home. Although they love each other, they quarrel often. Sissy is feisty and independent, while hot-tempered Bud believes in traditional gender roles. Their lives settle into a routine of working during the day and spending time at Gilley's at night, where Bud likes to ride the mechanical bull. When Sissy expresses interest in riding it herself, Bud forbids it.

Recently-paroled convict Wes Hightower lands a job at Gilley's operating the mechanical bull. When he flirtatiously tips his hat at Sissy, a drunken Bud becomes enraged and gets into a fistfight with him. Sissy, along with her friend Jessie, spends time during the day at Gilley's where Wes teaches Sissy how to ride the mechanical bull. One night at Gilley's, wanting to impress Bud, Sissy rides the bull, but Bud becomes angry that she defied him. When Bud falls off during his second ride, Wes intentionally swings the bull around hard, breaking Bud's arm. At home, Bud and Sissy debate over her riding the bull again. When she insists that she will and assumes Bud was jealous of her riding it better than he does, Bud slaps her and throws her out of the mobile home. Soon after, Bud sees Sissy at Gilley's. She refuses to speak to him, so Bud retaliates by dancing with a beautiful girl named Pam, the daughter of a rich oilman. He leaves with Pam, making sure that Sissy sees them in order to make her jealous. The next morning, she moves in with Wes who lives in a run-down trailer behind Gilley's.

Bud wants to compete in Gilley's upcoming mechanical bull riding contest in which the winner will be awarded $5,000. While Bud is away training with Bob, a former rodeo champion, Sissy returns to Bud's mobile home to gather her belongings. While there, she cleans the mobile home and leaves Bud a note saying that she hopes that they can get back together. Pam arrives while Sissy is still there, but Sissy leaves shortly thereafter. Pam then discovers Sissy's note and throws it away after reading it. Pam leads Bud to believe that she cleaned the mobile home while he was out. Sissy arrives back at Wes's trailer and catches him with Marshalene, a woman who works at Gilley's. After Marshalene leaves, an angry Sissy throws a carton of cigarettes at him and refuses to fix him a meal. In response, Wes physically abuses her.

Bob urges Bud to make up with Sissy, citing how his own formerly bad behavior nearly ended his marriage. Shortly after, Bob is killed in an accidental explosion at the refinery. Sissy attends the funeral and tells Bud that Wes was fired from Gilley's and is unable to find another job. She says that she and Wes plan to go to Mexico after Wes wins the $5,000 award money at the mechanical bull riding contest that night.

Bud initially intends to skip the competition, but his Aunt Corene encourages him to go, saying that Bob would have wanted him to compete. Bud wins the $5,000 but then expresses disappointment that Sissy was not there to see his victory. Pam realizes that Bud still loves Sissy, tells Bud that she does not love him and urges Bud to reconcile with Sissy. While Sissy is waiting in her car in the parking lot, Wes goes inside Gilley's to steal Bud's $5,000 award money. Bud finds Sissy in the parking lot, tells her that he still loves her and apologizes for hitting her. They reconcile, but after seeing Sissy's bruised face, a furious Bud goes after Wes, and a fight ensues inside the bar. Wes drops his gun, and the stolen money falls from his jacket. Gilley's staff, discovering the robbery, apprehend Wes. Bud and Sissy leave together, heading for home.


Historical background and production[edit]

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".[2] 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 represented a temporary recovery for Travolta from 1978's poorly received Moment by Moment, but the film was not nearly as successful as either Saturday Night Fever ($94 million) or Grease ($188 million).

While filming Urban Cowboy, Travolta had a private corner at the Westheimer Road location of the Ninfa's restaurant chain in Houston.[3]

Urban Cowboy was the first motion picture to be choreographed by Patsy Swayze, which launched her career as a film choreographer.[4]

Critical reception and legacy[edit]

The film received generally positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film received a 73% "Fresh" rating based on 22 reviews.[5] "Urban Cowboy is not only most entertaining but also first-rate social criticism," said Vincent Canby of The New York Times.[6] Variety wrote, "Director James Bridges has ably captured the atmosphere of one of the most famous chip-kicker[definition needed] 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 term "Urban Cowboy" was also used to describe the soft-core country music of the early 1980s epitomized by Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Johnny Lee, Mickey Gilley, Janie Frickie and other vocalists whose trademarks were mellow sounds of the sort heard in the movie. This sound became a trademark in country music from the early to mid '80s in which record sales for the genre soared.


The film 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. In December 2018 the soundtrack was certified triple platinum by the RIAA for sales of three million copies.[11]

Urban Cowboy
Soundtrack album by
Various Artists
ReleasedJune 6, 1980
GenreCountry, rock
LabelFull Moon, Asylum
ProducerIrving Azoff (exec.)
Singles from Urban Cowboy
  1. "All Night Long"
    Released: May 1980
  2. "Stand By Me"
    Released: May 1980
  3. "Love the World Away"
    Released: June 1980
  4. "Lookin' for Love"
    Released: July 1980
  5. "Look What You've Done to Me"
    Released: August 1980
  6. "Could I Have This Dance"
    Released: August 1980

Released as a double LP,[12] re-released on CD in 1995.[13]

Side A
1."Hello Texas"Jimmy Buffett2:33
2."All Night Long"Joe Walsh3:50
3."Times Like These"Dan Fogelberg3:02
4."Nine Tonight"Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band6:35
Side C
9."Lookin' for Love"Johnny Lee3:41
10."Don't It Make Ya Wanna Dance"Bonnie Raitt3:29
11."The Devil Went Down to Georgia"Charlie Daniels Band3:35
12."Here Comes the Hurt Again"Mickey Gilley2:41
13."Orange Blossom Special" / "Hoedown"Gilley's "Urban Cowboy" Band2:06
Side D
14."Love the World Away"Kenny Rogers3:11
15."Falling in Love for the Night"Charlie Daniels Band3:00
16."Darlin'"Bonnie Raitt2:34
17."Look What You've Done to Me"Boz Scaggs5:39
18."Hearts Against the Wind"Linda Ronstadt and J. D. Souther2:58

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1980) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[14] 26
US Billboard Top Country Albums 1
US Billboard 200 3
Canadian RPM Country Albums 2
Canadian RPM Top Albums 21

Chart singles[edit]

Year US BB



Title Artist
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

TV series adaptation[edit]

On May 28, 2015, it was announced that 20th Century Fox Television had teamed 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.[20] Chris Levinson was set as the showrunner and would executive produce the series along with Robert Evans and Sue Naegle. In December, FOX cancelled the pilot.[21] On February 1, 2022, it was announced that a television adaption was in development at Paramount+, with James Ponsoldt serving as director and co-writer alongside Benjamin Percy.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Theater Owners Blame Box Office Blues This Summer on Lower Quality of Movies Wall Street Journal 8 July 1980: 15.
  2. ^ "Dew Westbrook: The original Urban Cowboy is still looking for love". Texas Monthly. September 2001. Archived from the original on 2015-06-18. Retrieved 2017-08-09.
  3. ^ Huynh, Dai (June 18, 2001). "Restaurateur Mama Ninfa dies". Houston Chronicle. p. A1. Archived from the original on 2017-08-10. Retrieved 2017-08-09.
  4. ^ Kelly, Devin (September 18, 2013). "Patsy Swayze, mother of Patrick Swayze, dies at 86". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2014-04-24. Retrieved 2017-08-09.
  5. ^ "Urban Cowboy". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on 2017-11-28. Retrieved 2017-10-17.
  6. ^ Canby, Vincent (June 11, 1980). "John Travolta, Urban Cowboy". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 30, 2021. Retrieved May 29, 2012.
  7. ^ "Review: Urban Cowboy". Variety. December 31, 1979. Retrieved 2017-08-09.
  8. ^ Lane, Chris (May 8, 2015). "A Look Back at How Gilley's and Urban Cowboy Affected the Houston Area". Houston Press. Archived from the original on 2017-08-10. Retrieved 2017-08-09.
  9. ^ Hlavaty, Craig (May 20, 2015). "Looking back on the Houston premiere "Urban Cowboy" 35 years later". Houston Chronicle. Archived from the original on 2017-08-10. Retrieved 2017-08-09.
  10. ^ Ross, Marissa R. (June 12, 2015). "Inside Country Music's Polarizing 'Urban Cowboy' Movement". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on September 6, 2017. Retrieved September 17, 2017.
  11. ^ "RIAA – Searchable Database: Urban Cowboy". Archived from the original on September 24, 2020. Retrieved January 9, 2019.
  12. ^ "Various - Urban Cowboy (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (Vinyl, LP, Album) at Discogs". discogs.com. Archived from the original on 2015-07-13. Retrieved 2015-06-18.
  13. ^ "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". tower.com. Archived from the original on 2015-06-19. Retrieved 2015-06-18.
  14. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 282. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  15. ^ "The Hot 100 - 1980 Archive". Billboard. Archived from the original on 2017-08-04. Retrieved 2017-08-09.
  16. ^ "Weekly Charts". Cashbox. Archived from the original on 2020-06-07. Retrieved 2020-05-23.
  17. ^ "Adult Contemporary - 1980 Archive". Billboard. Archived from the original on 2019-09-27. Retrieved 2020-04-17.
  18. ^ a b c "Search: RPM". Library and Archives Canada. Archived from the original on 2015-06-28. Retrieved 2015-07-22.
  19. ^ "The Official NZ Music Charts". Recorded Music New Zealand Limited. February 15, 1981. Archived from the original on July 23, 2015. Retrieved July 22, 2015.
  20. ^ Littleton, Cynthia (May 28, 2015). "Fox Developing 'Urban Cowboy' TV Remake with Craig Brewer, Paramount TV (Exclusive)". Variety. Archived from the original on 2017-06-27. Retrieved 2017-08-09.
  21. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (December 11, 2015). "'Urban Cowboy' Pilot Not Going Forward At Fox". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on 2017-09-06. Retrieved 2017-08-09.
  22. ^ White, Peter (February 1, 2022). "'Urban Cowboy' Series Adaptation In The Works At Paramount+". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved February 1, 2022.

External links[edit]