Urban Cowboy

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Urban Cowboy
Urban cowboy Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJames Bridges
Produced byIrving Azoff
Robert Evans
C. O. Erickson (executive producer)
Screenplay byJames Bridges
Aaron Latham
Story byAaron Latham
StarringJohn Travolta
Debra Winger
Scott Glenn
Barry Corbin
Madolyn Smith
Music byRalph Burns
CinematographyReynaldo Villalobos
Edited byDavid Rawlins
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • June 6, 1980 (1980-06-06)
Running time
132 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 centers around activities at Gilley's Club, a football-field-sized honky tonk in Pasadena, Texas.

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]


Buford Ewing "Bud" Davis 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. Bud stays with his Uncle Bob and his family, with whom Bud is close. Bob takes Bud to the local honky tonk, Gilley's, a bar in the suburb of Pasadena, co-owned by singer Mickey Gilley and his record producer Sherwood Cryer. Bud quickly embraces the local nightlife. He also gets a job at the oil refinery where Bob works, and quickly befriends his co-workers.

At the club, Bud meets Sissy, who asks if he is a real cowboy. They fall in love, and Bud soon asks Sissy to marry him. Their wedding reception is held at Gilley's, and they 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 likes to ride the mechanical bull. When Sissy also wants to ride, he forbids her from doing so.

Wes Hightower is released on parole from Huntsville Penitentiary, and lands a job at Gilley's running the mechanical bull with his old friend, and Gilley's employee, Steve Strange. He openly flirts with Sissy, who is flattered and attracted to Wes, but a drunken Bud is enraged at the insult, and ends up in a fist fight with Wes. Sissy, against Bud's wishes, spends time at Gilley's during the day with Wes, Steve, and her friend Jessie, learning how to ride the mechanical bull. Meanwhile, at the refinery Bud has a serious accident and is sent home for the day. That night at Gilley's, Jessie and Wes convince Sissy to ride the bull. She does it to impress Bud, but he becomes angry and resentful that Sissy defied and lied to him, and he challenges her. When Bud falls off during his second ride in the challenge, Wes intentionally swings the bull around fast, breaking Bud's arm. At home, Bud asks Sissy if she is having an affair with Wes which she denies, and Bud forbids her from riding the bull anymore. 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.

The next night Sissy and Bud see each other at Gilley's, but Sissy is angry, and refuses to talk to Bud. To make Sissy jealous, Bud introduces himself to a beautiful girl named Pam, and dances with her, while Sissy dances with Wes. Bud and Pam leave together to have sex but Sissy, hurt and upset, declines Wes' sexual advances. The next morning, Sissy moves out of Bud's trailer, and into the run-down trailer behind Gilley's where Wes lives.

Bud wants to enter the mechanical bull riding rodeo at Gilley's to win the $5,000 prize and starts training with Bob, who happens to be a former rodeo champion. Meanwhile, Sissy returns to Bud's mobile home to pick up her things, but also cleans house and leaves Bud a note saying she hopes they can get back together. Pam arrives and, after Sissy leaves, throws the note away. Bud later returns home and Pam lets him believe it was she, and not Sissy, who cleaned the house. Meanwhile, Sissy arrives home and catches Wes having sex with her friend Marshalene, another Gilley's employee. Wes orders Sissy to cook him a meal and when she, hurt at his infidelity, angrily refuses Wes becomes physically abusive.

One night during a late shift at the refinery, Bob, citing his own past behavior that nearly cost him his wife Corene and their children, advises Bud to swallow his pride and make up with Sissy. Shortly thereafter, Bob is struck by lightning and dies. At Bob's funeral, Sissy tells Bud that Wes was fired from Gilley's for hurting too many people with the mechanical bull and is unable to find another job. Sissy and Wes plan on going to Mexico after he wins the $5,000 prize at the bull riding rodeo.

On the night of the contest, however, it is Bud who wins, and when Pam realizes that he still loves Sissy, Pam admits that she tore up the note Sissy left for him out of jealousy. Pam encourages him to reconcile with Sissy. Bud leaves to find Sissy before she departs for Mexico with Wes. Sissy refuses to go to Mexico, but relents after Wes hits her. He orders her to wait for him in her car behind Gilley's. Unknown to Sissy, Wes is inside Gilley's robbing the place for the prize money. Bud finds Sissy in the parking lot and tells her he still loves her and apologizes for hitting her. She reciprocates and they embrace. Seeing Sissy's bruised face, a furious 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 by punching him several times and pins him down on the floor. Gilley's staff, having discovered the robbery, apprehend Wes, implying that he will likely go back to prison for violating his parole. Bud and Sissy reconcile and leave together, heading for home.


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 80's 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 B
5."Stand By Me"Mickey Gilley3:35
6."Cherokee Fiddle"Johnny Lee4:06
7."Could I Have This Dance"Anne Murray3:14
8."Lyin' Eyes"Eagles6:23
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]

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. Retrieved 2017-08-09.
  3. ^ Huynh, Dai (June 18, 2001). "Restaurateur Mama Ninfa dies". Houston Chronicle. p. A1. Retrieved 2017-08-09.
  4. ^ Kelly, Devin (September 18, 2013). "Patsy Swayze, mother of Patrick Swayze, dies at 86". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2017-08-09.
  5. ^ "Urban Cowboy". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2017-10-17.
  6. ^ Canby, Vincent (June 11, 1980). "John Travolta, Urban Cowboy". The New York Times.
  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. Retrieved 2017-08-09.
  9. ^ Hlavaty, Craig (May 20, 2015). "Looking back on the Houston premiere "Urban Cowboy" 35 years later". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2017-08-09.
  10. ^ Ross, Marissa R. (June 12, 2015). "Inside Country Music's Polarizing 'Urban Cowboy' Movement". Rolling Stone.
  11. ^ "RIAA – Searchable Database: Urban Cowboy". Retrieved January 9, 2019.
  12. ^ "Various - Urban Cowboy (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (Vinyl, LP, Album) at Discogs". discogs.com. 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. Retrieved 2017-08-09.
  16. ^ "Weekly Charts". Cashbox.
  17. ^ "Adult Contemporary - 1980 Archive". Billboard.
  18. ^ a b c "Search: RPM". Library and Archives Canada.
  19. ^ "The Official NZ Music Charts". Recorded Music New Zealand Limited. February 15, 1981.
  20. ^ Littleton, Cynthia (May 28, 2015). "Fox Developing 'Urban Cowboy' TV Remake with Craig Brewer, Paramount TV (Exclusive)". Variety. Retrieved 2017-08-09.
  21. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (December 11, 2015). "'Urban Cowboy' Pilot Not Going Forward At Fox". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 2017-08-09.

External links[edit]