After initial box-office returns were surprisingly low, a newspaper poll was taken in the summer of 1980 to figure out why teenagers were not flocking to see the film. One of the main complaints from kids was that they did not know what the word Urban meant.
In the early scenes of the movie, John Travolta as Bud sports a beard. According to director James Bridges, Travolta wanted to keep the beard throughout the film but, after a lunch-date with the actor in a very popular restaurant failed to attract even one autograph-seeker, Travolta was convinced to shave it off.
At the time the film was shot, Gilley's, used as the film's main nightclub location was the largest nightclub in the world in terms of available space for the patrons, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
John Travolta said of this movie in the film's publicity: "Today, half the country would like to be a cowboy, while the other half would like to look like one". Of the movie, Travolta added that it was (to date at the time) " . . . my most physical movie. That thing was brutal and hard on the body. I was trained by super stuntman Chris Howell and he taught me how to hang on and hang in there. To master it, finally, was a great feeling".
According to the TCMDb, "In the last two weeks, the shoot moved to Los Angeles where an East L.A. trailer park subbed for Bud's Houston digs. One day, gunfire suddenly peppered the set. According to a security guard, six men with sawed-off rifles came over an embankment on the set's perimeter, firing away. It was believed, though never proved, that the assailants were members of a local street gang. No one was injured, but Travolta was badly shaken, and the remainder of filming was done on a soundstage".
In order to place cameras in key positions under the mechanical bull to capture certain angles of the rodeo riding, the landing fall mattresses were removed, thereby reducing the safety protection of the rider.
During the production shoot of this movie, disco outfit The Bee Gees, who had provided much of the soundtrack for John Travolta's earlier hit disco movie Saturday Night Fever (1977), played in Houston, Texas, whereupon Travolta accompanied them on stage.
The film's "Urban Cowboy" title is a real-life expression used in popular speech. The Allwords Dictionary define the term as a "person living in the city that dresses in Western-style clothes". They state that the phrase's etymology has it derived from its use in this movie.
The interior of the "Gilley's Club" country-and-western venue was ravaged by fire around 1989/1990 with the bar closing down after a dispute between its owners. In 2006, the exterior shell of the facility was demolished by its owners the Pasadena Independent School District. Reportedly, only the old sound-recording studio remains which is located on the Spencer Highway. A new "Gilley's Club" opened in Dallas, Texas in 2003 and is now known as "Gilley's Dallas".
The picture was adapted into a Broadway stage production of the same name in 2003 where it played for sixty performances at the Broadhurst Theatre opening on the 28th of February and closing on the 18th of May.
The film's director James Bridges said of this movie for the picture's publicity: "The film is a real look at the lifestyle of a mechanized West and the need for fantasy by those in contemporary society who work daily in dangerous jobs. In the saloon they go to at night after work these men create another reality for themselves, almost a small town where they live the cowboy myth".
The production shoot of this picture featured a closed set with many security precautions implemented to protect star John Travolta from the media. Travolta had mandated no publicity during filming and was at the time known to have become reclusive. The picture though garnered much negative publicity during principal photography anyway with producer Robert Evans once exclaiming "the press relations on this film stink and there's nothing I can do about it".
The type of dancing featuring in the movie in the dance contest is known as "Kicker Dancing" in Texas where the film is set and was shot. Outside of this American state it is also known as "Country Dancing", "Country/Western Dancing" and "Country and Western Dancing".
Sissy Spacek and Michelle Pfeiffer were amongst the main actresses considered for the lead female role of "Sissy" (and having the same first name as Spacek), with the part in the end being cast with Debra Winger.