Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most common and aggressive type of brain tumor, and is associated with a poor prognosis. Saponin 6, derived from Anemone taipaiensis, exerts potent cytotoxic effects against the human hepatocellular carcinoma HepG2 cell line and the human promyelocytic leukemia HL‑60 cell line; however, the effects of saponin 6 on glioblastoma remain unknown. The present study aimed to evaluate the effects of saponin 6 on human U87 malignant glioblastoma (U87 MG) cells. The current study revealed that saponin 6 induced U87 MG cell death in a dose‑ and time‑dependent manner, with a half maximal inhibitory concentration (IC50) value of 2.83 µM after treatment for 48 h. However, saponin 6 was needed to be used at a lesser potency in HT‑22 cells, with an IC50 value of 6.24 µM. Cell apoptosis was assessed by flow cytometry using Annexin V‑fluorescein isothiocyanate/propidium iodide double staining. DNA fragmentation and alterations in nuclear morphology were examined by terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase‑mediated dUTP nick end labeling and transmission electron microscopy, respectively. The present study demonstrated that treatment with saponin 6 induced cell apoptosis in U87 MG cells, and resulted in DNA fragmentation and nuclear morphological alterations typical of apoptosis. In addition, flow cytometric analysis revealed that saponin 6 was able to induce cell cycle arrest. The present study also demonstrated that saponin 6‑induced apoptosis of U87 MG cells was attributed to increases in the protein expression levels of Fas, Fas ligand, and cleaved caspase‑3, ‑8 and ‑9, and decreases in the levels of B‑cell lymphoma 2. The current study indicated that saponin 6 may exhibit selective cytotoxicity toward U87 MG cells by activating apoptosis via the extrinsic and intrinsic pathways. Therefore, saponin 6 derived from A. taipaiensis may possess therapeutic potential for the treatment of GBM.