Writing The Thriller Film by Neil D. Hicks provides some good insights in the rules of the genre. It’s mostly oriented at the plot-driven thrillers but if you’re interested in writing a thriller, the book can be useful. Here’s Hicks definition of the thriller prototype:
A relatively innocent character who normally avoids commitment and dissociates from conflict in life is abruptly caught in the snare of a menacing conspiracy.
The character is completely bewildered and wants nothing than to return to the normalcy of everyday life, but a powerful antagonist is committed to killing the main character in order to achieve a goal that threatens not only the protagonist, but the community at large.
The protagonist, spurred by uncontrollable panic, runs to escape the antagonist, yet soon discovers that not only is escape impossible, but that there is no help forthcoming from supposed friends or trusted institutions.
Instead, the protagonist must act alone by acquiring the strength of self-sufficiency and out-maneuvring the antagonist in a battle of wits until, in the final confrontation, the protagonist defeats the menace by attacking the antagonist’s vulnerability and exposing the evil.
Having changed from an avoider of conflict to a self-sufficient person, the protagonist now must face the larger world with a keenly sharpened vigilance.
According to Hicks, North by Northwest fits this profile best.