We analyze the onset of ''necking'' and subsequent filament failure during the transient uniaxial elongation of viscoelastic fluid samples in extensional rheometers. In the limit of rapid elongation (such that no molecular relaxation occurs), the external work applied is all stored elastically and the Considere criterion originally developed in solid mechanics can be used to quantitatively predict the critical Hencky strain to failure. By comparing the predictions of the Doi-Edwards model for linear homopolymer melts with those of the "Pom-Pom" model recently proposed by McLeish and Larson [J. Rheol. 42, 81-110 (1998)] for prototypical branched melts we show that the critical strain to failure in rapid elongation of a rubbery material is intimately linked to the molecular topology of the chain, especially the degree of chain branching. The onset of necking instability is monotonically shifted to larger Hencky strains as the number of branches is increased. Numerical computations at finite Deborah numbers also show that there is an optimal range of deformation rates over which homogeneous extensions can be maintained to large strain. We also consider other rapid homogeneous stretching deformations, such as biaxial and planar stretching, and show that the degree of stabilization afforded by inclusion of material with long-chain branching is a sensitive function of the imposed mode of deformation.