Urban Cowboy is a 1980 American western 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.


 [hide*1 Plot


Bud Davis moves from the small West Texas town of Spur, Texas to Pasadena, Texas, located near the heavily industrial eastern side of Houston, and a better paying job in the city's oil refinery in hopes of saving enough money to move back to his hometown and buy some land.[1] Bud moves in with his Uncle Bob (Barry Corbin) and his family, to whom Bud is close. Bob takes Bud to the local honky tonkGilley's (at the time, an actual bar in Pasadena, co-owned by singer Mickey Gilley and his record producer Sherwood Cryer which was then claimed to be the largest indoor (enclosed) bar in the world). Bud quickly embraces the local nightlife there. Most of the events take place in and around Gilley's.

At the club, Bud is approached by Sissy (Debra Winger), who asks if he is a real cowboy. The two dance together, showcasing Travolta's dancing abilities, and they fall in love. After a fight, Bud suddenly asks Sissy if she wants to marry him, and they are married in Gilley's. Bud and Sissy have many lovers' quarrels, some very intense, mainly due to their different views of men and women in society. Sissy is a fiery independent woman, with a strong belief that anything men can do women can do, while Bud still believes in very traditional gender roles, and that "there are just some things girls can't do". However, their love for each other always brings them back together again. Their lives settle into a routine of hard work during the day and living it up at Gilley's during the night. (The movie's tagline is "Hard hat days and honky-tonk nights.")

One night Wes Hightower, a former inmate at Huntsville Penitentiary, arrives at Gilley's and shows off his superior bull riding skills and flirts with an interested Sissy. Later at a diner Wes again flirts with Sissy which causes a drunk Bud to tell off Wes, who lets it slide, but after Bud angrily throws his food at the waitress and inadvertently hits Wes they have a fist fight outside which Wes wins. The next morning Bud nearly dies when he falls off the 200 foot scaffold at the refinery but hangs on with his legs. Meanwhile Sissy, against Bud's wishes, learns to ride the mechanical bull with her friend Jessie, Wes, and Steve. During supper Bud and Sissy argue but quickly make up and decide to go to Gilley's. While Bud and his friends are talking his accident at the refinery Jessie and Wes, who was hired to help run the bull, convince Sissy to ride the bull and Bud's friends says she rides better than Bud. Jealous and angry Bud starts a contest with Sissy. Bud turns the bull up to the maximum level for his second ride but falls off, as he stands back up Wes turns the bull back around fast and breaks Bud's arm. Bud is escorted out of Gilley's while Wes secretly is shown to have had a knife ready. At home Sissy taunts Bud about their bull riding competition and accuses Bud of being jealous of her superior skills. Bud slaps her and kicks her out of the house.

The next night at Gilley's Bud tells Sissy that Wes is an escaped convict but she informs him that he is out on parole. They argue after Sissy refuses to talk with Bud further and wishes him luck in "finding someone who will". Bud dances with Pam (Madolyn Smith) and Sissy dances with Wes. Bud and Pam leave Gilley's and have a one night stand but Sissy refuses Wes' sexual advances. The next morning Sissy moves out of Bud's house and moves in with Wes. Pam tracks Bud down and moves in with him and Bud introduces her to his family.

Bud begins training for a bull riding contest at Gilley's with his uncle Bob and Bob's friends at a local ranch. One night at the refinery Bob advises Bud to swallow his pride, as he had to do, in order to hold onto someone he loves. Later Bob is killed in an explosion when a lightning storm strikes the refinery. Meanwhile Wes cheats on Sissy with her friend Marshalene who works at Gilley's and openly flaunts it when Sissy arrives home with groceries. Wes asks if she bought cigarettes and Sissy throws them at Wes who drags her by the hair and forces her to pick up the cigarettes and again beats her when she refuses to fix him a meal.

At Bob's funeral Sissy tells Bud that Wes was fired from Gilley's for hurting too many people and cannot find a job so they plan on winning the bull riding contest at Gilley's and going to Mexico. At the bull riding contest Wes sets the highest score in the first round and Bud shows significant improvement and wins the contest in the second round. Bud wins the $5,000 cash prize but Pam realizes that Bud still loves Sissy and encourages him to reconcile with her.

Wes and Sissy prepare to leave for Mexico which Sissy refuses to do but agrees after Wes slaps her. Inside Gilley's Wes steals the money and ties up the office staff as the winners for the dance, punching bag, and bull riding contests are announced. As he prepares to leave Wes is spotted by his friend Steve Strange and Bud, having reconciled with Sissy, starts a fist fight with Wes for having hit Sissy in the face. Bud punches Wes and all of the money that Wes had stolen falls from his jacket. Gilley's management, discovering the attempted robbery, praise Bud's help and detain Wes at gunpoint. Bud and Sissy finally depart Gilley's (the source and location of most of their troubles) together.



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 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 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 CowboyJohn 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. The entourage was frequently seen driving back and forth down Lindenwood Drive and Shasta Drive while filming in Houston.

Critical reception[edit]Edit

The film received generally positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the movie received a 77% "Fresh" rating.[4] "Urban Cowboy is not only most entertaining but also first-rate social criticism," saidVincent Canby of The New York Times.[5] 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."[6]


The movie spawned a hit soundtrack album featuring such songs as "Lookin' for Love" by Johnny Lee, "Stand by Me" by Mickey Gilley, "Look What You've Done to Me" by Boz Scaggs, "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" by the Charlie Daniels Band, "Could I Have This Dance" by Anne Murray, and "Love the World Away" by Kenny Rogers. 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 CountryPop
Label Full MoonAsylum
Producer Irving Azoff(exec.)

Released as a double LP,[7] re-released on CD in 1995.[8]

Side A:

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

Side B:

  1. Stand By Me – Mickey Gilley (3:35)
  2. Cherokee Fiddle – Johnny Lee (4:06)
  3. Could I Have This Dance – Anne Murray (3:14)
  4. Lyin' Eyes – The Eagles (6:23)

Side C:

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

Side D:

  1. Love the World Away – Kenny 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 Me – Boz Scaggs (5:39)
  5. Hearts Against the Wind – Linda Ronstadt with J. D. Souther (2:58)

Chart performance[edit]Edit

Chart (1980) Peak


U.S. Billboard Top Country Albums 1
U.S. Billboard 200 3
Canadian RPM Country Albums 2
Canadian RPM Top Albums 21
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

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