Bud Davis moves from the small town of Spur, Texas to Pasadena, Texas, located near the heavily industrial eastern side of Houston to take a better paying job in the city's oil refinery in hopes of saving enough money to someday move back to his hometown and buy some land.
Bud moves in with his Uncle Bob (Barry Corbin) and his family whom Bud is close to. Bob takes Bud to the local honky tonk, Gilley's (at the time, an actual bar in Pasadena) co-owned by singer Mickey Gilley and his record producer Sherwood Cryer). Most of the movie surrounds events that take place at Gilley's. Bud quickly embraces the local nightlife by frequenting Gilley's.
At Gilley's, 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 fall in love. Bud and Sissy have many lover's 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 and they are married, in Gilley's. 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.")
The movie also highlights the many fights between cowboys at Gilley's and the mechanical bull, which causes a riff in the relationship between Bud and Sissy, leading to a break-up and Sissy moving in with Bud's arch-rival, Wes (Scott Glenn). Bud seeks solace with Pam (Madolyn Smith) and moves into her high-rise apartment in Houston.
Pam eventually realizes that Bud still loves Sissy and encourages him to reconcile with her. Meanwhile, Wes has been beating Sissy, and then steals the prize money from the bull riding competition, resulting in a fight with Bud. Bud punches Wes and all of the money that Wes stole falls from his jacket. The Gilley's manager, discovering the attempted robbery, detains Wes at gunpoint. Bud and Sissy, finally depart Gilley's together, the source and location of most of their troubles.
John Travolta as Bud Davis
Debra Winger as Sissy Davis
Scott Glenn as Wes Highhtower
Madolyn Smith as Pam
Barry Corbin as Uncle Bob Davis
Brooke Alderson as Aunt Corene Davis
Cooper Huckabee as Marshall
James Gammon as Steve Strange
Steve Strange as Sam Strange
Mickey Gilley as Himself
Johnny Lee as Himself
Bonnie Raitt as Herself
Charlie Daniels as Himself
Ellen March as Becky
Jessie La Rive as Jessie