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This article is about the 1980 film. For the Broadway musical of the same name, see Urban Cowboy. Not to be confused with Midnight Cowboy or Drugstore Cowboy.

Urban Cowboy is a 1980 Americanmarker romantic drama film about the love-hate relationship between cowboy Bud Davis (John Travolta) and cowgirl Sissy (Debra Winger). The movie captured the late 70s/early 80s popularity of Country Music music with John Travolta's star power after hits with Grease and Saturday Night Fever.


The movie starts out with Bud Davis moving to Houston, Texasmarker from Spur, Texasmarker. Bud moves in with his uncle Bob, Barry Corbin. Bob takes Bud to the local honky tonk, Gilley's (once a real country bar co-owned by singer Mickey Gilley and his record producer Sherwood Cryer) located in Pasadena, Texasmarker. Most of the movie surrounds events that take place at Gilley's. On his first night in town, Bud hooks up with two barflies, one of which is played by actress Jerry Hall, former wife of Mick Jagger. The next day, uncle Bob helps Bud obtain work at a local oil refinery. Bud quickly embraces (or succombs to) the local nightlife by frequenting Gilley's.

Soon after, Bud is approached by Sissy, Debra Winger, who asks if he is a real cowboy; they share Lone Starsmarker and tequila shots. The two dance together (showcasing Travolta's dancing abilities) and fall in love. One night, in a diner, after catching the barflies eyes, the two fight (foreshadowing the many fights that take place during the movie) and after a short scuffle, wind up wrastlin' in the muddy driveway at the diner. When they return sopping wet to Bud's truck, he proposes to her. The two are married, the ceremony taking place in Gilley's and move into a trailer together. During their honeymoon at the Houston Rodeo, they witness a "real" cowboy bull rider, Wes Hightower, Scott Glenn, who is actually a convicted felon. Their lives settle into a routine of hard work at the refinery during the day (for Bud, Sissy tows cars) and living it up at Gilley's during the night. The movie's tagline was "Hard hat days and honky-tonk nights."

After more fights break out at Gilley's, the owner installs a punching bag machine and mechanical bull. Bud takes to the bull immediately to prove his accumen at bull riding (despite never having ridden a real bull). While Sissy is impressed, she expresses a desire to ride the bull as well. Bud adamantly opposes this threat to his manhood; "it's not for girls". One night, after more carousing at Gilley's (again), Bud throws a hamburger and accidently hits Wes Hightower (now out of jail). The two fight outside the diner. Bud's pride (and face) are wounded and the next day he goes to work drunk. That same day, Sissy seeks out the mechanical bull at Gilley's to learn how to ride. Wes, now working at the honky tonk, gives her a lesson (despite recently putting the beatdown on her husband).

Meanwhile, Bud slips on scaffolding at work and nearly falls to his death. He is saved and returns home to recover. After some individual tuna salad's for dinner, Bud and Sissy make the trek to Gilley's (again). Sissy seizes the oppurtunity to show Bud her new bull riding skills. Bud tries to stop her, but Wes intervenes telling Bud "she knows what she's doing" thus implicating his role in her lesson. Sissy rides the bull in a provocatively sexual manner, much to the local crowd's pleasure.

Bud's manhood is threatened and he decides to upstage Sissy by riding the bull which is being operated by Wes, despite his back injury and being medicated. Bud and Sissy trade off riding the bull, the fued escalating ever higher until Bud is fianlly thrown from the bull. While Bud stumbles to his feet, Wes unexpectedly jars the bull joystick and knocks him down, breaking his arm. Bud and Sissy, have a very heated argument at home and Bud kind of beats on Sissy; then Bud kicks her out of the trailer. Sissy seeks solace in the most logical person; Wes; the man who beat her husband up and broke his arm.

The next night after getting off of work Bud goes to Gilleys (where else?). Bud sees Sissy hanging with Wes. They have another argument (at Gilley's again). Bud tells Sissy that Wes is an ex-con; Sissy says she knows and is still mad at Bud for beating her around a bit. As a result, Bud seeks out "a real woman" to make Sissy jealous. Bud finds Pam (Madolyn Smith) and dances closely with her. In return, Sissy then dances closely with Wes to make Bud equally jealous.

Sissy's plans backfire when Bud finally says to Pam: "When you gonna take me home and rape me". Pam replies "whenever you get ready!" Pam and Bud leave together to her Houston high rise apartment. Bud is not raped; but they share an extra-marital love affair. The next day, Sissy returns to the trailer and finds it empty. When Bud does finally get home he is greeted by Sissy and her packed suitcase. Sissy and Bud do not talk but Sissy moves out and in with Wes.

Bud continues his courtship with Pam, who reveals "Daddy does oil...and all that it implies." (i.e. she's rich). Sissy finds Wes cheating on her with a Gilley's waitress; yet, with nowhere else to go, stays with him. Bud expresses his desire to move on and divorce Sissy. Uncle Bob offers some mentoring and advice to Bud about swallowing his cowboy pride, confessing he nearly lost his wife and kids once due to his own prideful ways. Uncle Bob's wife, Corrine, loses a Dolly Parton look-a-like contest. During this time, Gilley's stages an upcoming indoor rodeo with bull riding as one of the events. Bob, who lost a testicle once while bull riding, begins to train Bud on how to score points (with the bull) and win the contest. The rift between Bud and Sissy continues and the affairs continue. During one conversation, Bud confides in Pam he came to Houston for work and that all cowboys are not (as her daddy thinks) dumb; as he removes his own cast with a hacksaw.

Sissy finally tries to reconcile with Bud, but is intercepted by Pam. Bud continues to train for the bull riding contest at Gilley's; insisting on going straight to Gilley's after work (to no one's surprise) even going so far as to refuse Pam's beef stroganoff.

A refinery explosion takes the life of Uncle Bob. During the funeral, Bud and Pam talk to Sissy who reveals Wes is also in the contest and plans to win as he is a "real cowboy". He plans to take the winnings with Sissy "deep into Mexico". In his grief, Bud decides not to participate in the bull riding contest. During the wake, Bud's Aunt Corrine, holding uncle Bob's winning belt buckle tells Bud that before Bud showed up, Bob had forgotten about his bull riding/testicle-losing days and in their backyard, she hands it to him (the belt buckle). She tells him Bob would have wanted Bud to use it (compete). Bud's resolve to win is now set and his preparation is set to the song The Devil Went Down to Georgia.

Finally, the day of the contest arrives, with Bud and Wes pitted against several other contestants for the $5,000 grand prize. Sissy refuses to fix Wes a sandwich and he kind of beats her up. Both Bud and Wes make it to the final round with three other contestants, with Bud eventually emerging victorious by one point. Bud's girlfriend Pam urges him to reconcile with Sissy, since she realizes he trained and won to impress Sissy and not for her. Bud goes looking for Sissy and sees her in the parking lot, apologizes to her and they reconcile. After seeing that Sissy has been beaten (because of the sandwich issue), he goes looking for Wes to exact his retribution.

Wes, having lost the bull riding competition, decides to steal the prize money and ties up some of Gilley's staff. On his way out he runs into Bud and they fight. Bud punches Wes and all of the money that Wes stole falls out from his jacket. The Gilley's manager, discovering the attempted robbery, detains Wes at gunpoint. Bud and Sissy, despite offers of free beers, finally depart Gilley's together, the source and locale of most of their troubles.

The song that plays over the credits is Johnny Lee's Lookin' for Love.


The movie's screenplay was adapted by Aaron Latham and James Bridges from an article in a men's magazine on Western nightlife written by Latham. The movie was directed by Bridges. The movie spawned a hit soundtrack album featuring such songs as Johnny Lee's "Lookin' for Love", Mickey Gilley's "Stand by Me", "Look What You've Done to Me" by Boz Scaggs, "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" sung by the Charlie Daniels Band, the mega Anne Murray hit "Could I Have This Dance"(#3 A/C) and the top 5 hit "Love The World Away" by pop-country superstar Kenny Rogers. The film is said to have started the 80's boom in pop-country music, known as the "Urban Cowboy Movement" also known as NeoCountry or Hill Boogie. Some film critics referred to the movie as a country music version of Saturday Night Fever. The film grossed almost $54 million in the United States alone, more than Saturday Night Fever (plus a further $24,000,000 in video rentals) and is considered to be John Travolta's last major hit before a series of flops in the upcoming decade.

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