Edelstein became a journalist after graduating from Harvard in 1981. He is often associated with close friend, fellow film critic, and iconoclast Pauline Kael. He is also credited with coining the term "torture porn," a genre to describe such movies as Hostel and Saw.
He has previously been a film critic for Slate (1996–2005), NPR's Fresh Air (2002-2018), the New York Post, The Village Voice, and The Boston Phoenix. His work has also appeared in The New York Times Arts & Leisure section, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, The New York Times Magazine, Variety, Esquire, and elsewhere. He is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.
He is the author, with independent film producer Christine Vachon of Killer Films, of Shooting to Kill (Avon Books, 1998). He is also the author of two plays, Feed the Monkey (Loeb Experimental Theater, Harvard College, 1993) and Blaming Mom (Watermark Theater, New York City, 1994).
In 2018, WHYY-FM, the producer of Fresh Air, ended its relationship with Edelstein. Edelstein made a joke on his Facebook page about a rape scene in the film Last Tango in Paris which some viewed as "offensive and unacceptable." Edelstein stated that he was unaware of the link between the film and rape, apologized and deleted the post. Edelstein was defended by media outlets such as Salon and the editorial board of the New York Post and The American Conservative.
- "Reel time with David Edelstein". Retrieved 2017-11-26.
- Pauline., Kael (2002). Afterglow : a last conversation with Pauline Kael. Davis, Francis, 1946- (1st Da Capo Press ed.). Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press. ISBN 9780306811920. OCLC 50557407.
- Hundt, Brad (26 October 2007). "Shocking stuff". Observer-Reporter. Washington, Pennsylvania. Archived from the original on 28 October 2007. Retrieved 2 February 2014.
- "David Edelstein - New York Film Critics Circle - NYFCC". www.nyfcc.com. Retrieved 2017-12-29.
- "Members". National Society of Film Critics. 2015-08-29. Retrieved 2017-12-29.
- "Shooting to Kill". www.goodreads.com. Retrieved 2017-12-29.
- Brantley, Ben (1994-10-22). "In Performance; Theater". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-12-29.
- Yang, Rachel (2018-11-27). "NPR's 'Fresh Air' Fires Film Critic David Edelstein Over 'Last Tango in Paris' Rape Joke". Variety. Los Angeles, CA: Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved 2018-11-30.
- "David Edelstein, the "butter scene" in "Last Tango" and the darkness of the internet". Salon. 2018-11-28. Retrieved 2018-12-01.
- Post Editorial Board (2018-11-28). "It's time to stop firing people for bad jokes". The New York Post. New York. Retrieved 2018-11-30.
- Dreher, Rod (2018-11-30). "Defending David Edelstein". theamericanconservative.com. The American Ideas Institute. Retrieved 2018-11-30.
- Edelstein's Top 10 films of 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010,2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, and 1998.
- David Edelstein on IMDb
- Archive of pieces by David Edelstein at New York Magazine
- Video (and audio) of interview/discussion with Edelstein and Alex Gibney at Bloggingheads.tv