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. Edelstein regularly appeared as a guest on Charlie Rose to talk about the movies and the Oscar telecast.
In 2018, WHYY-FM, the producer of Fresh Air, ended its relationship with Edelstein by firing him after he made a joke on his Facebook page about a rape scene in the film Last Tango in Paris which was 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.
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).
- "Reel time with David Edelstein". Retrieved November 26, 2017.
- 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 (October 26, 2007). "Shocking stuff". Observer-Reporter. Washington, Pennsylvania. Archived from the original on October 28, 2007. Retrieved February 2, 2014.
- "David Edelstein - New York Film Critics Circle - NYFCC". www.nyfcc.com. Retrieved December 29, 2017.
- "Members". National Society of Film Critics. August 29, 2015. Retrieved December 29, 2017.
- Yang, Rachel (November 27, 2018). "NPR's 'Fresh Air' Fires Film Critic David Edelstein Over 'Last Tango in Paris' Rape Joke". Variety. Los Angeles, CA: Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
- "David Edelstein, the "butter scene" in "Last Tango" and the darkness of the internet". Salon. November 28, 2018. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
- Post Editorial Board (November 28, 2018). "It's time to stop firing people for bad jokes". The New York Post. New York. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
- Dreher, Rod (November 30, 2018). "Defending David Edelstein". theamericanconservative.com. The American Ideas Institute. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
- "Shooting to Kill". www.goodreads.com. Retrieved December 29, 2017.
- Brantley, Ben (October 22, 1994). "In Performance; Theater". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 29, 2017.
- 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