'Tis the season to make top 10 lists. Why? Because we are hurtling towards the end of another calendar year. It's almost impossible to get through the day without some kind of top 10 ranking grasping for our attention. And we all know it won't go away until December 31. But when it comes to top 10 movie lists the calendar year is a very poor basis for comparison.

The Kinomatics project has been rethinking the use of the calendar year for studying the film industry. The calendar year has its benefits; it's easily justifiable, it fits with most other forms of data collection periods, and you don't really have to explain its use as a temporal division. But does it suit cinema data?

Cinema exhibition doesn't conform to the calendar year; its seasonal nature is different. So we've chosen to abandon the calendar year for our evaluations.

For many countries the day after Christmas (Boxing Day) is a critical release date for blockbuster movies and the Boxing Day trip to the cinema is a ritual almost as longstanding as the Boxing Day test and the Boxing Day sales.

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This year in Australia you'll have to wait until after Santa's visit to see the much-anticipated hit Big Hero 6, the franchise fodder of Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, and Russell Crowe's directorial debut The Water Diviner.

In 2013, the week leading into Christmas (traditionally one of the slowest weeks in cinemas) generated less than A$14 million ($14.9 million). One week later, beginning December 26, a record A$49.9 million was earned.

Using a calendar year to determine industry performance means this critical period for calculating showtimes and revenue is split between two different assessment periods. We wanted to remove this division from our analysis of cinema data.

Adjusting our annual analysis to start on December 26 worked well for gathering data about most films. However, it failed to account for one extraordinary factor: the massive international release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

The sheer weight of anticipation, marketing, international spread and box office for this one film compelled us to manipulate our year so that it incorporated a full, global Hobbit release - from December 10, 2012 to December 9, 2013; what we now call the Hobbit year.

We have a calendar year, a financial year, a year of the monkey - and on December 22 we start the Shire year. Why not a Hobbit year?

Working with cinema data on a Hobbit year basis has the extra benefit of encompassing those other major releases that start on Boxing Day. It's also extremely handy that the Hobbit films have had similar opening dates.

And while, unfortunately, this year Australians will have to wait to Boxing Day to catch the final Hobbit instalment, it started its global release on December 10, and opened in New Zealand yesterday.

A Hobbit year of movies looks very different from a calendar year in a table of top 20 films in terms of number of screenings for both types of "year".. As well as The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, several films appear in only one ranking: Life of Pi, Grown Ups 2, Silver Linings Playbook, Elysium, We're the Millers, GI Joe: Retaliation, and A Good Day to Die Hard.

These differences are based on either the Hobbit year inclusion of those blockbuster movies released before the New Year, or calendar year exceptions that cling to a top 20 spot when Boxing Day releases are out of the picture. The significant difference just a few weeks can make shows how seasonality is in the entertainment industries.

For movie producers, critics, and movie lovers, December (not January) is the season to be ranking.

• Alwyn Davidson is assistant researcher, Digital Humanities co-ordinator at Deakin University and Deb Verhoeven is professor and chair of Media and Communication at Deakin University.

- theconversation.com