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Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||James Bridges|
|Produced by||Irving Azoff|
C. O. Erickson (executive producer)
|Screenplay by||James Bridges|
|Story by||Aaron Latham|
|Music by||Ralph Burns|
|Edited by||David Rawlins|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$53,300,000 (US)|
Urban Cowboy is a 1980 American romantic drama 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.
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". 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 1978 flop Moment by Moment, but the film was nowhere near as successful as either Saturday Night Fever ($94 million) or Grease ($188 million).
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, an actual bar in Pasadena, co-owned by singer Mickey Gilley and his record producer Sherwood Cryer. Bud quickly embraces the local nightlife. Bud 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 his uncle Bob, a former rodeo champion. One night while working at the refinery, Bob advises Bud to swallow his pride and make up with Sissy, citing his own past behavior that nearly cost him his wife and children. Bob is killed that night when lightning strikes the refinery. Meanwhile, Sissy returns to their 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. 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.
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. They plan on going to Mexico after Wes wins the $5,000 prize at the bull riding rodeo. It is Bud who wins the contest, however, and Pam, realizing that Bud still loves Sissy, admits that Sissy cleaned the trailer and that she (Pam) tore up a card Sissy left for him out of jealousy. She encourages him to reconcile with Sissy. Bud leaves to find Sissy before she departs for Mexico with Wes.
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 Gilley's stealing 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. Bud and Sissy, reconciled, go home together.
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The film received generally positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film received a 71% "Fresh" rating based on 17 reviews. "Urban Cowboy is not only most entertaining but also first-rate social criticism," said Vincent Canby of The New York Times.Variety 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."
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.Mickey Gilley's career was re-lit after the film release, and the soundtrack started a music movement.
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 increasingly controversial into the 1980s, considered bland and formulaic by music critics and an increasing number of country fans. By the mid-1980s, country record sales and country radio listnership were declining as a direct backlash to this style, chronicled by the late New York Times music critic Robert Palmer in a 1985 page one story. By 1986, a new, more elemental style, New Traditionalism, arrived, building on the past popularity of Ricky Skaggs, John Anderson and George Strait. This sound hearkened back to traditional country of the 1940s and 1950s, and introduced new voices like Randy Travis, Reba McEntire and Dwight Yoakam.
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.
|Soundtrack album by |
|Released||June 6, 1980|
|Label||Full Moon, Asylum|
|Producer||Irving Azoff (exec.)|
|US Billboard Top Country Albums||1|
|US Billboard 200||3|
|Canadian RPM Country Albums||2|
|Canadian RPM Top Albums||21|
|Year||US Billboard Hot 100
|US Cash Box Top 100
|US Country||CAN Top Singles
|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|
Music Man by Waylon Jennings
Horizon by Eddie Rabbitt
| Top Country Albums number-one album
August 2 - September 6, 1980
September 20-27, 1980
Horizon by Eddie Rabbitt
Honeysuckle Rose by Willie Nelson
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. 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.